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Creed C. Greer, III 



Copyright 1989 


Creed C. Greer, III 







Rethinking the Beyond 1 

Narration and the Use of "Nonfiction" 7 

What Follows 2 



Hermeneutic Circling 27 

Titles and Quotations and Quotations of Titles. 32 

Circling Between Texts 51 

The Collapsing of Time 57 


1. Organizing Barth's Texts 69 

The Issue of Abortion 76 

Disposing of the Text 81 

"Night Sea Journey" 96 

2. Forking, The Y 98 

The Analytical (Inbound Upswimming 

Divergent) "Male" 101 

The Synthetic (Outbound Downswimming 

Convergent) "Female" 116 





The Coming Back of Repetition, A Speculative 

Organization of Texts 166 

Recollecting Kierkegaard 187 

Coming Back to Barth's Critics 193 

History and the Sequeling of Narration 201 



Setting the Task 227 

The Next Thing: The Postscript 231 

Bearing the Sign 237 

Narrating Living 241 





Books by John Barth: 

ER The End of the Road 

FO The Floating Opera 

FB The Friday Book 

LF Lost in the Funhouse 

S Sabbatical: A Romance 

TT The Tidewater Tales 

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School 

of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the 

Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy 



Creed C. Greer, III 

December 1989 

Chair: John P. Leavey, Jr. 
Major Department: English 

This dissertation describes the narrative and textual 
effects, in John Barth's Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales , 
of the inscription of four figures: the circle, abortion, 
production, and repetition. Each of these figures 
represents an attempt to escape various linguistic binds 
invariably reintroduced in the telling and writing of the 

"Circling" explores the way in which a circle questions 
our ability to understand the text and places itself in 
opposition to a narrative organization of events. Any 
attempt to exceed the orbit of the text reinscribes the 
circle. The sequentiality of Sabbatical and The Tidewater 
Tales tends to disrupt the notion of their circling because 
the circling text would suggest a linguistic collapsing of 

In "Abortion Stories" I show that abortion is connected 
to a decision concerning the organization of the woman's 
life and the orderliness of the text. Abortion is a 


disposal because it is the attempt both to arrange and to 
get rid of that which is aborted. Getting rid of a text 
will leave behind the trace of an erasure. The terms by 
which an analysis would be made are shown always to be 
inappropriate, and in the synthetic moment the prior 
division is reestablished, so that a decision cannot be 

"Production" develops the notion of reading as the 
production of the supplement. Though reading is an 
addition, since there is no outside-text, reading is, as 
Derrida says, adding and following a thread. Because the 
writer does not command language, the text always says 
something other than what the writer would mean. 

"Repetition" demonstrates that we can neither go back 
to a time before repetition nor identify the "original" 
repetition. Because the guestioning of truth leads one 
back, it forces one to use a methodology based on a 
seguentiality and so to create a narrative, which denies, 
paradoxically, the possibility of arriving at the truth. 

My "P.S." describes the inevitable bearing of the sign. 
Implications inscribed in the system that proposes the 
validity of the concept of the end (in particular the 
distinction between the real and the textual) are assumed in 
turning that system against itself. 



Rethinking the Beyond 

One of the things that bothers John Barth, that bothers 

me too, is that what we are writing today, our literature, 

seems to be at an intellectual standstill. What worries him 

is that it will (or has already) come to a narrative 

standstill too. In The Tidewater Tales a story within a 

story is framed by his anxiety: 

a man who once magically visited Scheherazade now 
wishes that she could visit him, so that if what 
he's done must be essentially what he'll do, it 
might be done at least as spiritedly and 
wholeheartedly as before. In short, that story 
was this story, and, like this one, it was not 
only unfinished, but stuck. (TT 603) 

Stuck is essentially the situation with which we are left in 

Sabbatical and with which we take up The Tidewater Tales . 

Fenn and Susan cannot decide, within Sabbatical, what to do 

with themselves, how to end their story; Peter Sagamore has 

minimalized his stories nearly to the vanishing point, so 

cannot begin his and Katherine's. Barth, the author of them 

all, tries to drive them, narratively, "to some presumable 

farther shore" (TT 284) . 

Barth 's work confronts a variety of linguistic binds 

(such as the development of meaning in the face of the 


impossibility of communication and the imposition a 
traditional understanding of narration entailing a 
beginning, middle, and end in view of the indeterminateness 
of the contours of the text) and, confronting these binds, 
his work asks: Can we advance? Can we move beyond? 

Barth's metaphor suggests that the answer will not be a 
simple one. "Shore" comes from the Middle Low German 
"schore," which meant "point of division," and even now 
designates the land between low and high water or the land 
at the edge of a body of water. We should wonder whether in 
reaching a farther shore Barth's books would simply be 
coming to another point of division, marooned, so to speak, 
on a beach on which the necessity of moving beyond is 
presumed . 

The farther-shore metaphor may be inappropriate for 
describing a system that would escape a linguistic bind. 
Peter Sagamore's reflection about what language should do 
leads him to his minimalist "less is more" theory of 
writing. I emphasize that it is the reflection of Peter 
Sagamore that gets him stuck. More precisely, it is 
language's looking inward at itself that places out in front 
a "farther shore." Language says of itself, I am 
incomplete; but it does not offer us the means of completing 
it and in fact tells us to look outside for the meaning or 
the truth or the real . 

"What is being written today?" becomes an absurd 
guestion in the face of the "farther shore." Insofar as it 

reinstates the logic of dichotomy and the logic of 
anticipation, "the farther shore" takes us where we have 
already been, disrupting the possibility of simply moving 
forward within The Tidewater Tales , and so is inappropriate 
in describing what is being written today , in distinguishing 
today from yesterday. We can not be sure that today's 
literature and criticism of literature are fundamentally 
different from works described by the term modernism . In 
fact, what people are calling modernism or post modernism 
seems to have been taking place all along. Two stories with 
which Barth identifies, stories that contain "postmodern" 
situations (such as the stuckness at the end of The 
Tidewater Tales ) , Ocean Storv and The Thousand and One 
Nights , are among the oldest in the history of written 

The criticism of Barth up to now has, for the most 
part, simply positioned Barth philosophically or 
thematically. The earliest articles, which began coming out 
in the mid '60s, labeled him a nihilist or "post- 
existentialist." He has been aligned with Kurt Vonnegut and 
the "Black-Humorists." Now, perhaps, because he has used 
the term in his article about the replenishment of 
literature, critics are calling him a "postmodernist." It 
could be argued that the job of the critic is, first of all 
(and perhaps as an end in itself) , to name what is being 
talked about. But because all of Barth 's books illustrate 
the danger of identification and of the alignment with a 

particular type of writing, approaching Sabbatical and The 
Tidewater Tales with a name in hand would be an 
inappropriate gesture. Barth 's work takes up the so-called 
postmodern themes (self-reflection, self-destruction, etc.) 
in order to go beyond them, but winds up showing that going 
beyond them is impossible in setting them aside, that going 
beyond them is impossible given the always prior 
intellectual positioning. Rather than trying to establish 
terms, Barth involves himself, his characters, his books, in 
the metaphors with which we allow our lives to be described. 
Writing, reading, and narrating are always subsumed by (and 
in) the metaphorics of creating a life. Sabbatical and The 
Tidewater Tales are the exploration of the appropriateness 
of particular metaphors for that creation. Understanding 
that language and living are not only involved with each 
other but are dependent on each other, Barth 's work is 
concerned that the way we use language may determine the way 
we live. The creating of a life may be something more, in 
Barth, than metaphorical. 

One of the most worrisome things about writing about 
Sabbatical alone would be ending. Having read The Tidewater 
Tales, the reason for the problem is clear: Sabbatical is 
incomplete. If The Tidewater Tales does not complete 
Sabbatical , it at least points out the difficulty in ending. 
Peter Sagamore's initials suggest the PostScriptal activity 
of The Tidewater Tales . One of the rules of Katherine and 
Peter in their telling of stories is that none should be 

left unfinished. "The Ending" of The Tidewater Tales reads 
like the captions following a 1960 's B movie: Mickey So- 
and-so becomes a movie star and falls in love with So-and- 
so; MaryJean So-and-so starts her own business and lives 
happily ever after; etc. 

Speaking about the books separately, in separate 
sections for example, would be entirely inappropriate, if 
possible at all. Not only are the books alike , but they are 
literally intertwined. In The Tidewater Tales the plotlines 
of the books — characters, the names of characters, and all — 
are twisted together such that to tug on the structure or a 
metaphor, say, of The Tidewater Tales is to put Sabbatical 
in tow. I am required to talk about them both at the same 
time or to talk about one knowing that the other is riding 
its wake. To talk with the knowledge of and to talk about 
are nearly the same thing — that is, they have similar 
effects; either way, the talking is based on terms that 
affect them both. 

On the other hand, inherent in the idea of the 
postscript is the coming afterward of the script. 
Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales are written in sequence, 
The Tidewater Tales the sequel. It is also suggested that 
Peter Sagamore's last name might indicate the attempt to add 
to the text; Peter's father was a German immigrant: "The 
word is not given in our German-English dictionary: Sage 
mehr ('Say more'), we wonder, metamorphosed by some 
immigration clerk like many another new American's name" (TT 

31). This suggestion is ironic considering that Peter has 
been trying to "say more" by saying less , but is consistent 
with the sequential nature of Barth's last two books, the 
anticipated delivery by Peter of a substantial work of 
fiction, and, in fact, the heft of The Tidewater Ta1es f both 
in itself and in relation to Sabbatical . 

Susan's decision to abort her child in Sabbatical had 
been made, in the past tense, in The Tidewater TalP.s : Lee 
and Frank, the "people" on whom the characters Susan and 
Fenn are "based," decide to try to get pregnant in The 
Tidewater Tales, something that did not happen, could not 
have happened, to Susan and Fenn in Sabbatical . We read The 
Tidewater Tales having read Sabbatical , having a prior 
knowledge of the conflict. Though, if we read Sabbatical 
first, The Tide water Tales has not yet come into play, we 
anticipate, because of the incompleteness of Sabbatical, 
something else. 

At the end of Sabbatical . Fenn, in a state of euphoric 
discovery, explains to unconvinced Susan that the story, 
"this story," "Our Story," Sabbatical , is their child. The 
Tidewater Tales makes it clear from its conception, so to 
speak, that, though they are intertwined, "lives are not 
stories" (TT 142) . 

Leah Talbott sets Peter up for a direct response to the 
predicament of Sabbatical ; "You generate your stories, and 
your stories generate your readers. Frank and I are your 
. . . children." In other words, Peter has written them 

into his tidewater tales. "Says Peter carefully, who is not 
always bad at intuiting situations, Nope:" — his colon 
introduces the next chapter: "A Story is Not a Child" (TT 
410) . 

Peter has made it clear that telling a story is only 
like living. Fenn and Susan's story can be their offspring 
but only in a sense. They have created it; they have come 
together and in coming together have produced . Peter and 
Katherine have found that, though they cannot write and tell 
a story that is their lives, they can create their lives in 
writing and telling a story. That is, writing and telling 
can be a part of their living. 

Narration and the Use of "Non-Fiction" 

Typically, a critic of Barth will read the fiction in 
terms that Barth establishes in his nonfiction. For 
example, Charles B. Harris says in Passionate Virtuosity: 
The Fiction of John Barth. "Significantly, from the corpus 
of his own work Barth cites LETTERS as an example of 
postmodernism, which suggests that 'The Literature of 
Replenishment' will prove as indispensable a guide through 
the intricacies of this novel as 'The Literature of 
Exhaustion' has for Lost in the Funhouse " (161) . Harris 
frames his entire book with the indispensable-guide theory. 
In Alan Prince's "An Interview with John Barth," Barth 
speaks of "passionate virtuosity" as the relation between 
technigue and art. I'm not, here, concerned as much with 


what Barth means by "passionate virtuosity" as with Harris's 
use of the term: "So important is this sentiment to Barth 's 
esthetics that he includes it with only minor revision in 
Chimera (1972, p. 24), allowing the genie, his obvious 
surrogate in the novel, to speak the words" (3). Rather 
than involving himself in the fundamental question of the 
connection between fiction and nonfiction, the question of 
authorship, into which Earth's self -quotation seems to force 
us, Harris assumes that Chimera is elevated by the addition 
of the nonfiction, that the statement made outside the work 
of fiction stands alone, and, of course, that the author and 
a particular character can be spoken of as one. In "The 
Essay as Aesthetic Mirror: John Barth' s 'Exhaustion' and 
'Replenishment,'" Elaine B. Safer makes the reading of 
Barth 's fiction in terms of his essays the whole of her 
argument: "The essays on 'Exhaustion' and 'Replenishment' 
thus cast light on what Barth has done in the past and call 
attention to the shorter form [of fiction] that he, 
theoretically, would like to use in the future" (116) . 

The assumption that the terms of nonfiction are more 
stable (that they are, indeed, established ) and the reading 
of fiction that is based on this assumption define a 
traditional method of critical inquiry. Because Barth 's 
work questions the distinction between the poles of truth 
and falsehood, order and chaos, and because it is a 
reorganization from the "beginning," to assume the rigidness 


or the primacy of his nonfiction is dangerous, if not 
directly oppositional to the texts themselves. 

When Barth speaks of moving "beyond," for example, we 
read the term knowing that he understands and even respects 
the connection of things — of texts to "reality," one text to 
another, etc. So we cannot think of moving beyond, in 
Barth, as getting outside. 

In The Floating Opera . Barth 's first novel, Todd 

Andrews is preoccupied with talking about his idea of order. 

We find early on that his interest is not simply a facet of 

his "character" or an incidental aesthetic orientation 

shared by his author, but that on his idea of order wavers 

his life — not only the "fictive" life of Todd Andrews, but 

the life of narration: 

It seems to me that any arrangement of things at 
all is an order. If you agree, it follows that my 
room was as orderly as any room can be, even 
though the order was an unusual one. (FO 10) 

The narrator speaks, implicitly, against the idea of order 

as an absolute, against the possibility that there is one 

perfect system. His room does not illustrate absolute 

order, but rather "an" order based on a particular system of 

ideas or images. Since any group of things is an 

arrangement (if for no other reason than its relation to the 

group) , and therefore everything is arranged, since, in 

other words, arranging always takes place, it makes no sense 

to speak of a system as more or less orderly — the narrator's 

room, therefore, "was as orderly as any room can be." 


In "Some Reasons Why I Tell the Stories I Tell the Way 

I Tell Them Rather Than Some Other Stories Some Other Way," 

Barth sees himself involved in the process of narration: 

At heart I'm an arranger still, whose chief est 
literary pleasure is to take a received melody — an 
old narrative poem, a classical myth, a shopworn 
literary convention, a shard of my experience, a 
New York Times Book Review series — and, 
improvising like a jazzman within its constraints, 
reorchestrate it to present purpose. (FB 7) 

We should be careful not to read this statement of Barth 's 

as the thing that is. We should read it in terms of the 

system it proposes to find out how the system works. We 

might be tempted to think of Barth 's "definition" of himself 

as a comment on Todd Andrew's. But if either statement 

describes the process of narration, using them as 

"definitions" that can be lifted out of one text undisturbed 

and applied to the other, assuming, in other words, we can 

pick out the Todd Andrews or the John Barth from either of 

them or that Todd Andrews and John Barth are identical, is 

contradictory. By speaking of himself, in the context of 

narration, as an "arranger," Barth speaks implicitly of 

order as an activity — rather than being a thing , it is done 

to things--and arranging as the process of narration. 

Right- or wrongness, though, make little sense in 

talking about the texts of John Barth (or any texts, for 

that matter) . With absolute order goes the possibility of 

correctness. Right- and wrongness are of no use in 

discussing process (or texts in any other terms because of 

their connection to narration) . Right- and wrongness 


nevertheless are always present as the things moved beyond. 
To leave absolute order behind is never to get rid of 
absoluteness; the narrator, rather, considers his own 
process and thereby involves himself in order ing . 

Barth confronts a theory of activity in terms of 
polemical argumentation in the "Literature of Exhaustion" — 
"the language of action consists of rest as well as 
movement. . . . Nothingness is necessarily and inextricably 
the background against which Being, et cetera" (FB 67, 68). 
His "et cetera" implies that the argument almost goes 
without saying. In order to say "et cetera," he must allow 
the premise, on which the argument is based, to tag along. 
Not only is a theory of opposition (the necessity of both 
and) upheld, it is included. But included as the 
orientation, which, of course, entails movement, toward a 
theory of narration: 

I decided I'd spend my professional academic life 
saying all the things that go without saying: 
staring first principles and basic distinctions 
out of countenance; facing them down, for my 
students 7 benefit and my own, until they confess 
new information. What is literature? What is 
fiction? What is a story? (FB 11) 

Todd Andrews never "mastered first principles" (FO 60) 

either, and his statement attests to the fact. "First 

principles" are precisely that which cannot be "mastered." 

He says of his suicide — "I could master the fact of my 

living with [my heart condition] by destroying myself" (FO 

227) . Since mastery is a state of being, to exist it must 

extend beyond the act. Todd Andrews would only be "master" 


after his death and by then, by his own logic, he would not 
be at all. 

At the showboat Jeannine "slipped into the 'Why?' 
routine" : 

"Why What?" I asked. "Why do the actors act 
funny or why do the people like to watch them?" 

"Why do the people?" 

"The people like to go to the show because it 
makes them laugh. They like to laugh at the 
actors. " 


"They like to laugh because laughing makes them 
happy. They like being happy, just like you." . . 


"Why do they like being happy? That's the end 
of the line." (FO 199) 

Todd Andrew's "whole life has been directed toward the 
solution of a problem, or mastery of a fact" (FO 16) . One 
could propose a particular answer, but "always something 
would happen to demonstrate its inadequacy" (FO 16) . There 
is never a satisfactory answer to the question "Why?" One 
can't move back to one static cause of life. The questions 
"What is literature?" and "What is fiction?" ask the same of 
us — that we discover an identity or write a definition that 
will stick. Definition is by definition inadequate; it is a 
limitation rather than a universalization. The questions 
themselves are inadequate. "Information" is exactly what 
they cannot supply. 

It could be argued that the necessity of inadequacy is 
the kind of "new information" of which Barth speaks. In 
"The Literature of Exhaustion" he suggests that by taking 
inadequacy into account a writer can do something new: 
"[Borges'] artistic victory, if you like, is that he 


confronts an intellectual dead end and employs it against 
itself to accomplish new human work" (FB 69-70) . Though 
this passage is often quoted, it is not, in itself, 
representative of Barth's point of view. He suggests in 
"Tales Within Tales Within Tales" that works have always 
taken themselves into account: "that is . . . stories within 
stories, which always to some degree imply stories about 
stories and even stories about story telling — that this 
phenomenon is ancient, ubiquitous, and persistent; almost as 
old and various, I suspect, as the narrative impulse itself" 
(FB 221). We can even wonder about his "almost": in "The 
Title of This Book" he comes straight out with it: 
"literature, like language, is seldom simply but always also 
about itself" (FB xii) . 

Barth's inconsistency is not the issue, but it suggests 
that when he speaks of "new information" he is posing a 
theory of origination as process. One of Borges' 
characters, Pierre Menard, re-creates several chapters of 
the Quixote . "It would have been sufficient," Barth says, 
"for Menard to attribute the novel to himself in order to 
have a new work of art, from the intellectual point of 
view." That is, the addition of the name "Pierre Menard" 
would require a different reading, one in terms of a new 
author and all the baggage — scholarly, philosophic, what 
have you — that inevitably goes along with it. "Pierre 
Menard" would make the Quixote something other. Barth 


distinguishes, though, Borges from this "intellectual" idea 
of difference: 

But the important thing to observe is that Borges 
doesn't attribute the Quixote to himself, much 
less recompose it like Pierre Menard; instead, he 
writes a remarkable and original work of 
literature, the implicit theme of which is the 
difficulty, perhaps the unnecessity, of writing 
original works of literature. (FB 69) 

Implicit in Barth's discussion of originality is the 
understanding that texts are connected to other texts. An 
original work, therefore, is not one that is outside or that 
has no relation to the past. A work of literature is 
"created" not out of nothingness but in relation to 
nothingness. A text is "original" to the extent that it 
involves itself in origination — not simply a going back but 
a coming into being. Texts are made new. Borges, 
nevertheless, wrote the passages that Pierre Menard re- 
created and so involves himself in the creation of a 
narrative event and involves his story in its own creation. 

Barth speaks of originality in one of two ways. Either 
(1) originality is contained in absolute paradox and so is 
effectively cancelled out (Borges writes an original work 
about the impossibility of originality) ; "originality" in 
other words carries only the meaning of its own paradoxical 
impossibility. Or (2) there are two senses of "original": 
the original before which there was nothing and evolutionary 
origination in which every work takes part; there is no 
"need" to write "original" works of literature ("original" 


in the first sense) because works of literature inevitably 
involve themselves in origination. 

I take up Barth's first novel not (as will be assumed) 
to discover the cause of the works that come after it, to 
unearth the rudiments of Barth's "budding genius," but 
because The Floating Opera rethinks beginning. I go back to 
The Floating Opera not as the Todd Andrews who begins his 
Inquiry as "an attempt to learn why [his] father hanged 
himself" (FO 218, emphasis mine), and not even as the Todd 
Andrews who understands that "it is another thing to examine 
this information and see in it, so clearly that to question 
is out of the question, the cause of a human act" (FO 218) . 
Even the revision of the purpose of his Inquiry to this new 
understanding is inadequate: "In fact, it's impossible, for 
as Hume pointed out, causation is never more than an 
inference; and any inference involves at some point the leap 
from what we see to what we can't see. Very well. It's the 
purpose of my Inquiry to shorten as much as possible the 
distance over which I must leap" (FO 218). He has decided 
to continue, knowing that he cannot solve the problem. His 
purpose, he says, "is not really to leap the gap . . . only 
to shorten it" (FO 219). At this point he is satisfied by 
simply continuing; he is satisfied by the "activity" of 
inertial movement — movement devoid of change. 

I go back, rather, as the Todd Andrews who, out of the 
Inquiry , composes a novel. 


Sabbatical, like The Floating Opera . is based on an 
intellectual pursuit. Fenn and Susan have taken the 
sabbatical to decide what to do with their lives — Susan 
whether to take a position at Swarthmore, Fenn whether to go 
on doing what he's been doing, and both of them whether to 
have a child. And, like The Floating Opera , the narration 
of the story is moved out in front of the intellectual bind. 
At the beginning the question "Why?" is made a matter of 
substance (both essential to the text's relation to the 
"intellect" and material to its relation to the "things" 
talked about) : 

After sundown we see against broken clouds the 
reflected glow of city lights from below the 
horizon ahead: Virginia Beach, Fenn reckons, and 
hopes we're far enough offshore. The name catches 
Susan's breath; brings tears to her eyes. Fenwick 
knows why. (S 10-11) 

As we will see in Chapter II, why the name "Virginia Beach" 

brings tears to Susan's eyes is caught up in the decision 

making (or lack of decision making) of the entire text. The 

extraordinarily brutal rape, in Virginia Beach, of Susan's 

twin sister and the moronic child that is the product of the 

rape obviously affect Susan's contradictory desires about 

having children. Her tears at the mentioning of "Virginia 

Beach" can be read as a reflection of the impetus of the 

conflict between her and Fenn, the reason for their 

sabbatical voyage, the reason, in fact, for Sabbatical . 

But as I said the guestion is essential to the story. 

In this passage the narrator is concerned more with 

positioning than with the impossibility of deciding or the 


inevitable assumption of a cause. They see "against" the 

clouds light that is "reflected" from "below" the horizon 

"ahead." From his observation of the position of the light 

Fenn estimates his own position and wonders whether they are 

"far enough offshore." The glow of city lights is out in 

front of Susan and Fenn just as the story of Mimi's rape is 

projected out in front of the present bind, the lack of 

knowledge about why Susan is crying. The narration proceeds 

by placing the story out in front. 1 

Sabbatical takes place at what is to be the end of 

their voyage. But it is about beginning. One can infer, 

then, that Sabbatical is also necessarily about the relation 

between beginning and end. The narrator looks at narration 

as a putting things in order: 

Okay, he decides, and consults the compass over 
Susan's shoulder, wondering the while what words 
best follow Once upon a time. 
Blam! Blooey i (S 11) 

The story has, of course, already begun by the time we get 

to the words " Blam! Blooey! " The words do "follow," 

though, the phrase "Once upon a time" and so even though 

" Blam! and " Blooey! " do not begin, they question the 

sequence of events in terms of beginning. Though "A 

dialogue on Diction" takes place "three days later, safely 

at anchor in Poe Cove, Key Island, Virginia," since it 

1 In the case of Fenn's cardiac episode and Susan's 
abortion "placing out in front" becomes a putting-off or 
displacement of the story (they decide to wait to tell each 
other about the particular events) and so serves as much to 
disrupt the progression of the story. 


concerns the appropriateness of the use of " Blami Blooey! " 

it comes next. The use of " Blami Blooey 1 " has already been 

questioned implicitly by its juxtaposition to the archetypal 

opening line of a story — "once upon a time." The discussion 

of its relation to the tradition seems to follow naturally. 

Susan, the scholar of the two, falls back easily to the 

foundations of philosophical division: 

S: In the Poetics , Aristotle distinguishes 
between lexis and melos — "speech" and "song" — and 
discusses them separately, since in Attic drama 
there really were both spoken dialogue and choral 
songs. (S 12) 

When she teaches Aristotle she "combines [s] lexis and melos 
into the general heading of Language. Under that heading 
she consider [s] all questions of tone, style, diction, the 
effective management of dialogue, the strategic deployment 
of metaphor, and what have you" (S 12). Susan wonders about 
the use of language in terms of the tradition and at the 
same time rearranges Aristotle's categories, using 
"language" as the term under which lexis and melos are 
interrelated, speaking of both lexis and melos as aspects of 
"style," "diction," etc. 

She also reads their beginning in terms of the history 
of fiction: 

S: So: after a splendid four-thousand-year 
tradition of sea-voyage fiction, from the Egyptian 
papyrus of the Shipwrecked Sailor, said to be the 
oldest story in the world ... to Crane and 
Conrad, all with their big set-pieces of tempest 
and shipwreck, ... we proudly enter the 
narrative lists with Blam and Blooey. (S 13) 


Fenn turns her questioning of the quality of narration into 
a discussion of narrative technique: "I used to read books 
in college days. Those blokes all has a little warning, for 
Christ's sake; an effing foreshadow or two, you know? But 
us: Blam! Blooey I " (S 13). Fenn speaks of warning as 
foreshadow; he says, in effect, since we had no warning we 
should not include foreshadow, but he does so by speaking of 
the event written about in terms of speaking about the 
event, in terms of narration; he savs the storm itself, 
described by the words " Blam! Blooey! " and the story "A 
Storm at Sea," was not foreshadowed. So one cannot 
differentiate the storm from the narration of the event that 
is the storm. 

By deciding to "begin" their story with the storm they 
make narration its topic and define narration as the 
development of a new order. Susan and Fenn haggle over 
another point of diction and include it in the narrative: 

F: I'll make you a deal: I'll take out every 
effing in the script except the ones in this 
passage, and those I'll soften to "effing." 

S: I can live with that. 

F: But blam and blooey stay. 

"Effing" has always already, within the text, been edited. 
Fenn says "I will soften the ones in this passage to 
'effing'" but, by including the promise in the narrative, 
underscores the pervasiveness of rearrangement. We never 
see the word to which "effing" refers. Fenn meshes the idea 
of what "really happened" with the narration of their story: 
F: My finger was on the effing starter-button! 


I was wondering what to say to you after Susie and 
Fenn. Then Blaml Blooey 1 (S 14) 

Story and narration coincide and thereby reduce any argument 

based on the reality of events outside the text to 

irrelevancy. What "really happened" were the words " Blaml 

Blooey! " 

The theory of language and the story come together in 

the story's narration. 

What Follows 

Because so few articles have been written about 
Sabbatical (the book itself has been out of print for 
several years, though it was published in 1982) and so 
little said about The Tidewater Tales (it came out in 1987), 
the water would seem to be uncharted. In fact though, 
because the reading of Barth's work is disturbingly narrow 
and, as I have pointed out, firmly established, there is no 
indication that the trend will not continue. Thus, I am 
writing about Barth's work under the pressure of an 
establishment. Most of the criticism I consult is 
considered in terms of these two most recent books of Barth 
only by extension, but even so, I find myself arguing 
against the possibility of the application to Sabbatical and 
The Tidewater Tales of the assumptions made in these widely 
accepted methods of criticism. 

Unlike Harris's Passionate Virtuosity , for example, 
this dissertation attempts more than an explanation of John 


Barth or even of a particular idea in the books of John 
Barth. Insofar as the writing of his books make up, in 
part, his life and insofar as the relations between living 
and writing are what his books are about, yes, this is about 
John Barth . But it is also a discussion of ways to read, in 
critical terms, the relation between metaphor and narration 
and the effect that relation has on reading and writing in 

This is why the theory I work with is more integral to 
this dissertation than the discarding of the criticism. As 
my bibliography will attest, the work of Jacques Derrida is 
essential to my understanding of the work of John Barth. I 
hesitate, though, to say that I apply Derrida to Sabbatical 
and The Tidewater Tales , because any "use" of Derrida will 
constitute a reading. The work of Derrida initiates a 
dialogue and an interpretation at least as extensive as the 
work of Barth. I would rather say that my study constitutes 
a double reading, of both the work of John Barth and some of 
the recent theories about language and literature. Because 
of Barth 's tendency to grapple with the more difficult and 
provocative issues in language, his books call for this 
double reading. 

This dissertation is divided into four chapters, each 
of which corresponds to the reading of a "figure" or a 
"metaphor" and a discussion of its consequences on the 
reading, writing, and telling of stories. I should point 
out beforehand that the terms figure and metaphor are part 


of our subject in that the assumption they carry, the 
assumption that the figure or metaphor is distinct from the 
meaning or the idea it conveys, is shown by the figures 
themselves to be misleading. 

"Circling The Question of Knowledge" explores the way 
in which the circle, as a model for the text, questions our 
ability to understand the text and places itself in 
opposition to a narrative, which is to say a sequential, 
organization of events. The hermeneutic circle describes 
the necessary presupposition of a knowledge of the thing to 
be understood and so questions the validity of 
interpretation generally. The hermeneutic circle can be 
thought of graphically both as a circular path, challenging 
the notions of beginning and end, and as an enclosure, 
challenging the traditional understanding of the inside and 
the outside of the text. Titles in The Tidewater Tales and 
the quotation of the "first line" in Sabbatical and The 
Tidewater Tales tend to act according to the circular logic 
of hermeneutics because neither gives us a means of 
establishing textual or narrative limits. Though we do not 
ever see the closure of the text or the story, they describe 
themselves as an enclosure. Those who would try to 
understand the enclosure, which would require exceeding it 
to get a view of the whole, would find themselves caught 
within. Getting out of the circle of hermeneutics is 
problematic because any attempt to exceed the orbit of the 
text, to read it transcendentally, reinscribes the circle. 


On the other hand, the sequential ity of Sabbatical and 
The Tidewater Tales would tend to disrupt any notion of 
their circling because the circling text would suggest a 
linguistic collapsing of time. The circling text is shown 
to be a sham; to understand the text as a circle requires a 
breaching of logic because a sequential ity always imposes 

In "Abortion Stories" I show that abortion is connected 
to a decision concerning the organization of the woman's 
life and the orderliness of the text. Barth's considering 
the text as the body of the woman is consequential for them 
both. I describe the abortion of the text as a disposal 
because this term indicates both the attempt to arrange and 
the attempt to get rid of what is aborted. Susan's abortion 
in Sabbatical reflects Fenn's attempt at discarding various 
drafts of their story and their continual discussion about 
the organization of the story they are a part of, "the story 
of their life." Getting rid of a text will leave behind the 
trace of an erasure, so that what is missing comes to be 
what the text is about. Because the Y is the structure of 
decision-making (of analysis and synthesis) , it is the 
source of Sabbatical 's narrative abortion. Fenn and Susan 
discover that the terms by which they divide their world, by 
which an analysis would be made, are inappropriate and that 
in the synthetic moment the prior division is reestablished, 
so that a decision cannot be made. Abortion is not a neat 
metaphor for the self-destruction of the text or the death 


of fiction, rather it indicates a narrative problem whose 
root is in the language. 

Whereas abortion describes the text and the writing of 
the story, "Production, Reading, Supplementarity" describes 
the text and the reading of the story. To think of the 
reader as one of the story's parent's, as Peter does in The 
Tidewater Tales , is to develop the notion of the production 
of the supplement. The Tidewater Tales illustrates the fact 
that reading is never simply an addition. Calling reading a 
production of supplements is not to say that reading occurs 
outside the text or that there is what might be called an 
outside-text. Though reading is an addition, it cannot add 
just anything; it is rather, as Derrida says, adding and 
following a thread. Because the writer does not command 
every aspect of the language used, the text always says 
something other than what the writer would mean. 

One of the more dramatic effects of the supplement on 
the story is its making indeterminate the story's "end." We 
cannot count on the story's ever being finished because 
supplementation is also a replacement . Every supplement 
describes its own need for a supplemental reading, for a 
replacement, so marks itself as incomplete. 

"Repetition, History, Narration" is a discussion of 
repetition as it relates to the displacement of the origin 
and the repetitious coming back, which is also a deferral, 
of the end and a discussion of the questioning of historical 
truth as it relates to the development of a narrative. What 


is called the repetition of a text is not, as is generally 
presumed, containable or finite. A story will inevitably 
point out that it has been told before. Repetition operates 
according to Derrida's description of the fort: da of Freud 
in that what is "repeated" is repetition itself. Every time 
Fenn and Susan come back to the matter about which a 
decision has to be made and on which the end of their story 
depends, the matter is deferred; thus, the story cannot be 
concluded within the text. The end about which they 
speculate is caught up in a repetitious deferral without 
end. Though repetition disrupts the concepts of beginning 
and end and would deny the difference between the past and 
the future, difference inevitably marks itself and puts 
forward the narrative of repetition; because repetition is 
never absolute, it entails the possibility of a sequence, of 
movement in time. Rather than asking about the validity of 
historical truth or about the possibility of coming to the 
origin of the text, we should ask now, What follows the 
questioning of truth? "Repetition, History, Narration" 
demonstrates that we can neither go back to a time before 
repetition nor identify the "original" repetition. Because 
the questioning of truth leads one back, it forces one to 
use a methodology based on a temporality and on a 
sequential ity and so forces one to create a narrative, which 
denies, paradoxically, the possibility of arriving at the 
truth . 


"P.S.: In Place of a Conclusion" is a sort of anti- 
conclusion. "The Ending" of The Tidewater Tales appears to 
be an attempt to complete the story and to mark the end of 
the text. It recognizes the desire in Barth's work to get 
outside the dilemmas language poses and, indeed, to get 
outside of the text itself. Primarily, for the writer in 
The Tidewater Tales , it is the dichotomy between the textual 
and the real that needs to be overcome. "The Ending" is 
ironic in that it questions the possibility of ending and so 
the possibility of an outside. in this conclusion that is 
not a conclusion I ask, To what extent are the implications 
that are inscribed in a system that proposes the validity of 
the concept of the end (in particular the distinction 
between the real and the textual) assumed in turning that 
system against itself? Each time we are led to the edge of 
the text, pushed toward the "real," we are wrapped back into 
both the text and the dichotomy between the textual and the 
real, which compels us to move to an "outside." 




Hermeneutic Circling 

I will begin CIRCLING as if you already know about 
Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales . Though their moving in 
circles (or in a circle) would seem to place us outside the 
texts, in developing an understanding of them, we will find 
ourselves already involved . 

If, as readers, we are literally circling with the 
texts we interpret, the questions that seem to pose 
themselves (how do we begin to understand a text we are a 
part of, and how do we step off the circle, how do we take 
knowledge with us and perhaps even use it in reading, in 
becoming involved with, other texts?) are actually part of a 
presupposition about the shape of texts. The question of 
Knowledge is bound to the circling of Sabbatical and The 
Tidewater Tales, but it cannot accurately be said to be 
posed at the beginning or end of their reading, because the 
shape of the stories will have already circumvented the 
possibility of an absolute beginning or end. Therefore, the 
problem that always presents itself in the inscription of 



the circle is the connection between, which is the 
effacement of, beginning and ending. 

The guestion of the circle, as an issue in the theory 
of interpretation and in the breakdown of logic has, of 
course, its history. I make these statements about 
Sabbatical and The Tide water Talss within the context of a 
theoretical and philosophical tradition — that of 
hermeneutics— and within the context of an issue inseparable 
from a general theory of interpretation: the hermeneutic 

Schleiermacher is thought of as the first in a line of 
four major theorists of hermeneutics, including Wilhelm 
Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, and Hans-Georg Gadamer. 1 
Schleiermacher described hermeneutics as the "art of 
understanding" and thereby helped to make the circle the 
figure of interpretation. Since understanding is 
referential (that is, since we understand by the comparison 
of things) , what we understand forms itself into "systematic 
unities, or circles made up of parts" (Palmer 87) . The 
circle as a whole defines the individual parts , while the 
parts together describe the circle. The hermeneutic circle 
can also be described in terms of the context of an idea or 
a work, what Schleiermacher called the work's "horizon." 
The meaning of a text is derived from its context, its 
relation to other texts, and yet the context is composed of 

1 See, for example, Palmer, on whom the following 
discussion of Schleiermacher and Dilthey is based. 


the texts for which meaning is sought. The relation between 

the whole and the part is, therefore, dialectical— each 

gives the other meaning. since a dialectical relation is 

one that is logically circular, understanding, according to 

Schleiermacher, takes the circle as its model. 

Schleiermacher himself is, of course, part of a circle 

of understanding about the development of the theory of 

interpretation; by his own definition, his work can only be 

understood in terms of its larger context. Richard Palmer 

discusses, in his Hermenentins, two forerunners of 

Schleiermacher (Ast and Wolf) who form that context. And 

Gadamer, in Truth and Method, shows us that the principle of 

the hermeneutic circle stems from ancient rhetoric, 

specifically, from the dialogic question and answer: 

There is no such thing as a method of learning to 
ask questions, of learning to see what needs to be 
questioned. On the contrary, the example of 
Socrates teaches that the important thing is the 
knowledge that one does not know. . . . All 
questioning and desire to know presuppose a 
knowledge that one does not know. . . . (329) 

This presupposition is what leads one to a particular 
question; it is also the "problem" with the hermeneutic 
circle because it involves a logical contradiction. As 
Palmer puts it, "if we must grasp the whole before we can 
understand the parts, then we shall never understand 
anything" (87) . 

The fact that the hermeneutic circle presupposes a 
knowledge of the thing to be understood brings to question 
the validity of the circle as a model of understanding. 


Schleiermacher contended that the concept of the hermeneutic 
circle is not invalid, but that logic cannot account for the 
operation of understanding. In fact, understanding requires 
an intuitive "leap" into the hermeneutic circle, and we 
thereby understand the whole and the parts together. 
Suggesting the possibility of an intuitive leap seems to beg 
the question of how one begins to understand, to beg the 
question of the circle's validity in terms of its logic. 
The question immediately posed by the circle is this: how 
can one understand anything if understanding entails the 
presupposition of knowledge about the thing? To say that 
understanding is partly intuitive is to say that we do 
understand, to assume the very thing that is being 

Dilthey points out that, since every part presupposes 
the others, there is no true starting point for 
understanding. In other words, there can be no 
"presuppositionless" understanding (Palmer 12 0-21) . Doing 
away with the idea of a starting point has as a consequence 
doing away with the need for a "leap" into the circle. 
Heidegger agrees with Schleiermacher that understanding "is 
not to be reduced to a vicious circle," but not that the 
circle's "problem" of logic is itself to be circumscribed by 
intuition. For Heidegger, the circle of understanding is 
itself the expression of what he calls the "fore-structure": 
"All interpretation," which he defines as "the working out 
of the possibilities projected in understanding," "operates 


in the fore-structure. ... Any interpretation, which is 
to contribute understanding, must already have understood 
what is to be interpreted" (Heidegger 189, 194). 

In Aristotle the "problem" can only be described 
dialectically: "the word problema refers to those questions 
that appear as open alternatives because there is evidence 
for both views and we think that they cannot be decided by 
reasons, since the questions involved are too great." 
Problems, therefore, are "alternatives that can only be 
accepted as themselves and thus can only be treated in a 
dialectical way" (Gadamer 339). if the critique of the 
concept of the problem is organized by a logic of question 
and answer (which is what Gadamer says has happened, in 
neokantianism, for example) , then the nature of the problem 
as dialectical has from the start been contradicted: 
"Reflection on the hermeneutical experience transforms 
problems back to questions that arise and that derive their 
sense from their motivation" (340). in other words, in 
trying to account for the hermeneutic "problem" we will find 
ourselves part of a circle that has not yet been taken into 

That is why, for Dilthey, the task of the interpreter 
is not that of immersing oneself totally in the object of 
interpretation (which would be impossible anyway) but rather 
that of finding viable modes of interaction of one's own 
horizon with that of the text (Palmer 121) and why Heidegger 
says that "what is decisive is not to get out of the circle" 


(195) but to work out the fore-structures of the 
interpretation. "Working out" the fore-structures does not 
bring us to the truth about the text or even about the fore- 
structures. The only "objectivity" in Heidegger's system, 
Gadamer says, is "the confirmation of a fore-meaning in its 
being worked out" (237) . 

There are two ways of thinking about our involvement in 
the circle graphically, both of which pose problems for the 
interpretation of texts. We can think of texts, and 
ourselves with them, as moving along a circular path and 
thereby questioning the relation between beginning and end 
and even the validity of beginning and end as terms with 
which to describes texts. And we can think of the circle as 
an enclosure, which would lead us to position texts, and 
ourselves with them, with regard to the relation between 
inside and outside. 

Titles and Quot ations and Quotations of Titles 

Where one should begin—with what metaphor, for example, or 
at what chronological point in the story — must be 
confronted, given a structure that would tend to deny a 
beginning and an end and to de-temporalize time. To say 
that I will begin CIRCLING does not consider the problem 
with beginning that has already presented itself: it 
assumes, for instance, that the title is exterior, outside 
the circle of the "text proper." in The Tidewater Tales 
titles are shown to be involved with the development of the 


story and text, in effect, circling with the text, so that 
even they cannot be cited as beginnings. 

There are several types of doubling or folding of the 
title in The Tidewater Tales,, types which complicate the 
circling of the text: (1) the phrase "the tidewater tales" 
is reiterated in comments about the story being told; (2) 
the narrator quotes the title in telling the story of The 
Tidewater Tales; (3) title pages "inside" the text begin 
again the tidewater tales; and (4) the title pages at the 
so-called upper and lower limits of the text appear to frame 
the "text proper." 

In "Title (to be specified) " Jacques Derrida uses the 
example of La Folie du iour to describe the relation between 
the title and the same words met elsewhere in the text. We 
meet various combinations of the terms of the title The 
Tidewater Tales throughout The Tidewater Tales , so Derrida 's 
discussion is directly applicable to our first complication. 
Though when the words are used in a statement inside the 
text they do not have the same function as the title, the 
doubling brings into question the possibility of discovering 
the original performance of the terms. As part of a 
statement, "the tidewater tales" or a phrase such as "these 
tales" "will not have title-value," as Derrida says, because 
they will not have the same nominal role; that is, the same 
words met elsewhere will not serve to name the text as does 
the title ("Title" 13). The title occurs, properly 
speaking, on the border of the text, and though it is "still 


part of a so-called literary fiction, ... it does not play 
a role in the same fashion as what is found inside the same 
fiction." Though, in their ability to force upon us a 
return, the terms of the title function as a quotation, the 
title itself is not, in Derrida's terms, "citational" : "In 
the duplicity of this occurrence it is impossible to say 
which is the original and which repeats the other" ("Title" 

The narrator of The Tidewater TalP.s f unlike the 
narrator of La Folie du iour r also quotes the title in 
telling about telling the story, "easing back into our rent- 
paying labors while working up our coupled viewpoint for The 
Tidewater Tales: A NovpV (tt 643). This quotation, or 
requotation, has essentially the same effect as the 
repetition of the same words inside the text, but the effect 
comes about in a slightly different manner. The quotation 
would seem to designate this book r The Tidewater Tales , the 
one we can hold in our hands, 656 pages long, copyright 
1987. But, apparently, the one the narrator is talking 
about is not yet written, the viewpoint not yet "worked up." 
And that will always be the case with this type of 
reference. When the narrator quotes the title of this book, 
The Tidewater Tales will not have ended. That will always 
be the case, even if, as we will see, the words " The 
Tidewater Tales" are what would usually be called the last 
line of the text. 


At the apparent end of the section "Our Story," there 

occurs these lines (in reference to the "Ordinary Point 

Delivery Story" being told and to the "forthcoming" "book"): 

(with the last line still unglossed) there 
unfolds — 

• • • 

This Book: (TT 82) 
On the following page a title, partly a quotation— The 
Tidewater Tales plus an expanded subtitle— seems to 
designate a book separated from what is thereby marked as 
introductory : 









This (what can it be called?) partly "new" non-titling title 
has a dual function. It is both part of a statement within 
and about the story and a title in itself. Though it is 
connected by a colon to the previous line, it has its own 
page, in effect a title page, and there is no end 
punctuation to assure us of its placement in the discourse 
of the previous passage or of "The Ordinary Point Delivery 

The colon preceding the title page has the effect of 
negating the introductoriness of the introduction by 
connecting the two sections narratively. What follows a 
colon is, according to the organization of grammar, an 
example or an elaboration of that which precedes it. In 


other words this book is the "glossing" of "This Book:" (TT 
82). if the last line remains "unglossed," as the narrator 
claims, it is only because the book, as well as the 
"introduction," cannot be said to have come to an end, 
because for neither of them is there a "last line" per se. 

The Tidewater Talas "concludes" with another title 

A NOVEL. (TT 656) 

This title page, after which nothing seems to follow, has 
the effect of leading us back. It functions as the 
quotation of a title, so questions the possibility of coming 
to an end; we would have to place "beginning" in quotation 
marks as well, because finding the original statement is 
problematic. It cannot be determined whether the title at 
the supposed last line of the text quotes or is the referent 
for another quotation, the quotation of itself. in relation 
to La Folie du jour Derrida has called this type of 
quotation of quotation the "chiasmatic invagination of the 
borders," each of which is the quotation of the other. This 
organization "does not allow us to discern in the reading 
the indivisible limit of a beginning from an end. It 
carries away the condition for every dictatorial emergence 
of a title, the title implying these critical effects of the 
border, the possibility of discerning indivisible borders" 
("Title" 20) . 


In "Living On: Border Lines" Derrida suggests that one 
of the reasons that the limits of the book are indistinct is 
that, with books such as La Folia du iour . there are no 
graphic signals to indicate a distinction: 

The starting edge will have been the quotation (at 
first not recognizable as such) of a narrative 
fragment that in turn will merely be quoting its 
quotation. For all these quotations, quotations 
of requotations with no original performance, 
there is no speech act not already the iteration 
of another, no circle and no quotation marks to 
reassure us about the identity, opposition, or 
distinction of speech events. (96) 

The title page at the supposed end of The Tidewater Tales is 

the quotation of a quotation (TT 83) of a quotation (TT 5) 

(not including the cover of the book) . There are at least 

four title pages, one of them, as we have seen, well within 

what would usually be called the text proper, none of which 

is distinguished by quotation marks. Though each of them 

has its differences, both contextual and graphic (I have not 

attempted to represent the spacing of lines, the level of 

boldness, or, least of all, the style of type), never does 

the difference allow us to place, with any sense of 

security, one title in relation to another. 

Titles in The Tide water Tales are also part of the 

circling of the story. This might best be illustrated by 

the "lower level" titles or titles of what one traditionally 

calls the titles of chapters. (The divisions of The 

Tidewater Tales tend to disrupt traditional notions about 

the hierarchy of parts divided and about the relation 

between the parts and the "whole" text. Designating the 


divisions with terms such as Part . Section , or Chapter would 
give the hierarchical organization of divisions a validity. 
We might find that not suggesting the hierarchy is 
impossible; quotation marks can only question a term — they 
cannot render its meanings neutral . ) Often the titles will 
carry as much weight in the telling of the story as the 
"chapters themselves." For example, these are two 
consecutive chapters quoted (if this is possible) in their 




Skip lunch. (TT 49) 

One chapter would be empty of a "text proper" but for the 

points of ellipsis that indicate its emptiness: 





. . . (TT 53) 
The following title includes its own points of ellipsis and 
is the "chapter itself": 


(TT 53) 

The most dramatic of these titles is the 4 63-word title of a 
chapter that reads simply, "Ahem" (TT 73) . "Ahem" is the 
breath taken after the recitation of its long-winded title. 
It is ironic that the chapter is simply a comment on its 
title, the reverse of what is usually expected of the 
relation between titles and their texts. One of the 


functions of the title, according to Gerard Genette, is the 

designation of the '"content' of the text" (711). Though 

the "content" of a text is undeterminable, and though the 

term thematic used to describe this type of title is 

ambiguous, "thematic titles dominate the picture widely 

today" (715) . Being a comment on the length of the title is 

doubly ironic because it makes the relation between titles 

and their texts one of the subjects of the chapter, a 

subject that is not, apparently, part of the title itself. 

That 463-word title is, in fact, longer than half of the 

chapters in the first of the largest divisions. The point, 

here, is this: if we have to consider the title (or titles) 

as part of the circling text or as part of the circling 

story about the text, we can no longer cite a title as the 

location of a beginning. We are already on the circle. 

Another way to approach the difficulty of beginning is 

to question the supposed first line of a text. Sabbatical 

might seem to begin with the quotation of a poem thus: 

"There was a story that began, 

Said Fenwick Turner: Susie and Fenn — 

Oh, tell that story] Tell it again! 
Wept Susan Seckler ..." (s 9) 

"'There was a story that began,'" refers to a story already 

told. in "The Prose and Poetry of It All, or, Dippy 

Verses," Barth calls these verses "a kind of standing joke 

between" Fenn and Susan. What makes it funny to them, and 

this is the case with all standing jokes, is its being 

"repeated" (FB 240) . Hence, our double quotation marks and 


Barth's indenting the verses, which serves to indicate their 
repetition as well as their genre. Being the archetypal 
introduction of a story, it would tend to lull its readers 
into analytical complacency; it offers itself simply as a 
sign (like any other sign) marking this point the 
"beginning." But as an introduction to Sabbatical, it is 
ironic and complex. It is suggested that the story will 
begin after the opening line, specifically with the 
italicized words Susie and Fenn . but, in fact, it has 
already begun. "'There was a story . . .'" is a part of the 
story that is about problematic beginnings, a part of 
Sabbatical. Barth says that "Fenwick Turner savs 'there was 
a story that began,' etc., but in fact he has not yet begun 
the story he knows is there to be told" (FB 240) . We are 
not in contradiction, though we might seem to be. The story 
Fenn proposes to tell might not yet be read as the story of 
Sabbatical. As we read on, though, we find that Sabbatical 
is all there is of Fenn's story and he, in fact, claims it 
as his own. Fenn's story and the story of Sabbatical are 
being repeated but have not yet begun. To say that a story 
has already begun or, to be emphatic about it, always 
already begun is to say that the beginning cannot be 
localized, that there is no location by which we can cite 
the beginning, which is to say that the beginning has not 
actually occurred — it has not taken place so does not exist 
in such a way that it can be found or met with, which is to 


say that the story has not yet begun. We circle in 
Sabbatical between the already and the not yet. 

Graybeard Fenn would be happy to give it another 
go; we^ have fiddled with our tale through this 
whole sabbatical voyage: down the Intracoastal in 
the fall in our cruising sailboat, Pokev. Wyp. t 
from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico and 
across to Yucatan; all about the Caribbean island- 
hoppmg through the mild winter of 1980; and in 
May through our first lazy open-ocean passage, 
from St. John in the U.S. Virgins direct for the 
Virginia Capes, Chesapeake Bay, Wye Island, the 
closing of the circle, sabbatical's end. (S 9) 

Apparently, Fenn has told the story before or tried to: this 

is "another go," another telling or at least another attempt 

at beginning. Fenn and Susan's fiddling with the tale is 

the inevitable difficulty of getting it going. Though the 

sabbatical is over, or, to be precise, nearly over, they 

have not yet decided how to begin Sabbatical. Precision, 

here, is important, considering the logic of the circle. 

("Sabbatical" [the voyage] comes to be conflated with 

" Sabbatical " [the story as well as the book], so that even 

the first mention of the term in the opening paragraph has 

to be read as meaning both the voyage and the story.) If 

their voyage and story are circular, the end of the 

sabbatical will have to be the beginning of Sabbatical . 

Strictly speaking, the "closing of the circle" of the voyage 

is not marked by the regaining of the Chesapeake Bay or even 

This "we," which refers to Fenn and Susan, is 
confusing because Fenn, who makes this speech, uses both the 
third person (in referring to himself) and the first person 
(in referring to himself and Susan); the intricacy of 
Sabbatical 's point of view is discussed in the "Forkina" 
section of Chapter II. y 


landfall at Wye Island, and their story does not begin with 

the events described in the opening passage. 

What Fenn and Susan call the "end" of the sabbatical 

has come to be associated with the resolution of problems 

Fenn and Susan faced on their setting out, principally, 

whether to have a child. Until that decision is made, one 

can speak of the "closing of the circle" only figuratively. 

And since theirs is a sabbatical voyage , only the mainland 

is an appropriate symbol of its end. As long as they have 

sailing to do, the decision can be made later: 

Fenwick considers, then sets forth his private, no 
doubt whimsical reason for preferring Solomons 
Island to a mainland harbor. Since the turn of 
the year, we have been on or between islands. 
Fenn feels, therefore, irrationally but strongly, 
that tying up at a mainland slip, even anchoring 
in a mainland cove, is tantamount to ending our 
sabbatical voyage. (s 85) 

Fenn's reasons are not "whimsical," though this passage in 
isolation might make them seem so. if they declare that 
their voyage is over, they have as much as decided that they 
have failed: "It was our hope and intention that by the end 
of this same voyage we would know better our hearts and 
minds vis-a-vis several decisions which lie ahead; but by 
and large, we don't, yet" (S 83-84). It is their salvation 
as a couple that the decisions "lie ahead." "in short, 
let's stay with islands, enisled, isolated, until we know 
better our main landfall. Maybe we'll know after Washington 
and Baltimore" (s 84) . 

It turns out that Washington and Baltimore are 
locations that mark events that shape the story of 


Sai&aUsai. m Washington, Fenn neets his frlend _ ^^ 

Taylor, who was a colleague of Penn's „ hen Penn was in the 
CIA ana who is still on the payroll. F enn sees Doog as 
they call him, because he might have informatlon abQut 
Fenn's brother, Manfred, an upper-level CIA officer who has 
heen missing for over a year, and Manfred's son, Gus a 
Marxist plumber who has been missing since he went to chile 
to work against the CIA's intervention there. Doog Knows 
little, beyond the obvious possibilities, about Manfred's 
disappearance. But he reveals to Penn that Cue's mother 
Carmen, who happens also to be Susan's .other, was in effect 
Offered the option of ransoming Cus, who might still be 
alive as a political prisoner in Chile, by becoming an agent 
of the CIA. Penn's son, Orrin, might even be approached by 
the CIA. And Penn is offered by Doog himself the option of 
doubling, if he is approached by a foreign agency, in 
exchange for further information about Manfred and Gus. 
And, perhaps most importantly, Penn is warned by Doog that 
the Agency might have come up with an untraceable inducer of 
cardiac arrest. Penn is a prime target for this type of 
liquidation because he has had a heart attack before and 
because his expose of illegal CIA activities has made him 
-ny CIA enemies. On the bus from Washington, Penn has a 
mxnor cardiac episode. 

Because Penn had once been involved with the CIA it is 
impossible to disentangle his life from the movement of that 
agency, it does not matter that he joined the CIA to 


"neutralize [Manfred], if not convert him. What happened 
was more the opposite" (S 45). when Doog's pitch is 
followed up, Fenn tries to step off the circle: 

It goes without saying, Marilyn Marsh says, 
that you can say no. 
Fenn says No. 

• • • 

Marcus Henry asks Is that the end of your 
interest in [Manfred and Gus]? 
Fenn considers. Yes. (S 3 04) 

To know about Manfred and Gus, Fenn has to take the pitch, 
has to involve himself in the CIA. Fenn's "no" is 
ineffective, and his "yes" is an outright lie— an angry 
claim that he can dissociate himself from the CIA and rid 
himself of its influence. 

Whereas Fenn's trip to Washington illustrates the 
difficulty of extricating oneself from the circle, Susan's 
trip to Baltimore illustrates the problem of closing the 
circle. What happens in Baltimore is this: Susan has an 
abortion. What is relevant about the abortion to this 
argument is that she has it without discussing it with Fenn. 
They get pregnant without deciding to get pregnant, and so 
that Fenn will not be trapped into saying "have the baby," 
she has the abortion without Fenn's being in on the 
decision. Near the apparent end of the book, when the 
abortion story ("Susan's Friday" [S 287-97]) is told, Fenn 
and Susan's problems are unresolved. At the climax of the 
story, when it seems that they will split up, Fenn cannot 
even decide which way to steer the boat; they "circle slowly 
in mid-channel" (s 347) around the red and black buoy that 

»«. the splitting of 


At the a PParent end of fh u 
^ indC ac a „ ay cac 

y " " fun *»»«ntal. u 354) <. 
^^ because that is „ whe <* 3 54) to 

-» — ing in Kind _ ^ «**. Mlriaffl , whQ 
>-» their romanoe . Th£ . aM •""» »- iove and 

»« ". Though Fenn never «» c lrcle nor get 

- °«~e d , they are up ^^ -*• «- Pitch Doog 
anxiety about the i" *nowle dge and 

»co mpany safe . houses m ; an -«««. t hat there may be 

- our bMutlm c " r^ ISland «•* — there and 

«-nesapeake River ann ^ * 

m aybe even on our DM • ^^ Where •!••, 

interrupts " No+ - l«land. » Fenn 

v ' Not °n Cacawav c„ ea 
^'- Wsresponseis _ -J-o nCacaway ,, (s 

- ^u^ Fenn and ^J* than 

la "« an In Th USa " have "°t yet „ade 

In a^w.H.i.LT^ they are 

rt is saia in i^Bii^ that 2 T g - 

- "»—-, h ave .. closed the olrcie SUSa " »* ^ta 

With so many g uastloni , ° f their c ™ise . . . 

questions unresolved" (TT ,,., 
"=los edtheclrol <0««). T hey have 

tneir cruise" in +- hQ 
« » a c* in the ches apeake Bay Th£y ' *"* *"»* ^ «-* 

— « - Pa S s age maklng of ; ye ; y b 7 >~» *- *— 

Year before and even of the 


beginning of their relationship. But being "where it all 
started," behind Cacaway, is meaningless given the 
definition of closure established in Sabbatical; if 
guestions are unresolved, though Fenn and Susan have 
regained the Chesapeake and even Cacaway, Sabbatical cannot 
be said to have closed. Behind Cacaway, their boat is 
anchored as if Sabbatical is unwilling or incapable of 
moving on around. In The Tidewater Tales r Peter and 
Katherine meet the characters of Sabbatical on the water, 
sailing, having not yet made their "main landfall." The 
supposed end of Sabbatical cannot be considered the end 
because of the impossibility of closure and the 
impossibility of getting off the circle, of establishing a 
point of reference outside the circle from which one can 
claim that the circle is complete. 

The beginning cannot be the beginning, either. 
Following "A Storm At Sea" (S 9) is "A Dialogue On Diction," 
which is told "Three days later" (S 11) , and following that 
is "The Story Of Fenwick Turner's Boina," which occurs in 
"the late fall of Nineteen Sixty" (S 27) , twenty years 
before the "present." At the "end" of "The Cove," which is 
the first of the three sections and is claimed to be 
introductory (Fenn says about the rest of the story, "What 
the reader doesn't know yet would fill a book" [S 73]), Fenn 
wonders : 

Have we decided where to begin it? 

Oh, in the middle, says Susan, definitely. In 
medias fucking res, as my helper would say. 


Before his helper edits out his casual 
vulgarity. okay: we'll start with the storm at 
sea, lxke the big boys, and work in the exposition 
with our left hands as we go along. 

Shivering Susan points out that the reader 
doesn't know yet for example about her seducing 
Fenwick on Cacaway Island in 1972, or about Fenn's 
son Orrin's old crush on her. Our left hands are 
going to be busy. (s 72) 

The middle is the only possible place to start. The storm 
at sea has already been told. The story has already begun. 
We already know about Cacaway (some of it, at least) ; our 
left hands have been busy, too. 

Sabbatical forces us to see ourselves within, in the 
midst of, a story and a text. Being on the circle, in fact, 
demarcates an enclosure and demands that we confront the 
problem of the relation between the inside and the outside 
(of a story, a novel, a text, etc.). These two ways of 
viewing the circle (as a path and as an enclosure) are 
inseparable. In Of ngy Derrida develops, from the 
notion of the trace, the impossibility of locating a 
beginning in the text: "We must begin wherever we arp ; i n a 
text where we already believe ourselves to be" (162). This 
statement questions the possibility of beginning, but within 
the context of the development of a methodology of a 
criticism based on the axial proposition that there is 
nothing outside the text, and based on a consideration of 
the text as an enclosure. Derrida says that "In a certain 
way I am within the history of psychoanalysis as I am within 
Rousseau's text. Just as Rousseau drew upon a language that 
was already there— and which is found to be somewhat our 


own, thus assuring us a certain minimal readability of 
French literature — in the same way we operate today within a 
certain network of significations ..." ( Of Grammatoloay 
160) . For Fenn and Susan, as well as for the reader of Fenn 
and Susan, there is no outside of the text. They must begin 
in the middle because middle is all there is; they begin on 
the inside . 

On the other hand, being within the text does not 
insure the efficacy of enclosure but rather emanates from 
the necessity of the text's being part of a "network of 
significations" that will not allow one to "sustain the 
coherence of one's own discourse" (Derrida, Of Grammatoloay 
162) . We might want to reach a point that is exterior in 
relation to the totality of a text, what Derrida calls the 
"exorbitant" because it would be outside the orbit (orbis) 
of an enclosure, in order to see that what we are dealing 
with is in fact a circle and an enclosure. We might, in 
other words, desire a transcendent reading necessary for a 
view of the whole. But such an exorbitancy cannot be given 
methodological intraorbitary assurances. Within the 
closure, the work can only be judged "in terms of the 
accepted oppositions" (Derrida, Of Grammatoloay 162), and 
attempting to get out of the orbit reestablishes the 
oppositions one is attempting to exceed, principally the 
opposition of inside and outside, which leads us to 
conceptualize the text as an enclosure in the first place. 


It should be clear that circling and telling are 
intertwined. In order to talk about circling, one has to 
get on the boat, so to speak. Beginning is as much a 
problem for the critical encompassing of a text as for the 
narrative development of one. The exorbitant position might 
be thought of as the circular path itself, because the path 
cannot be thought of as being within the enclosure. In a 
sense, it is outside the enclosure, but it is also that 
which defines the circle as an enclosure. For Derrida the 
path is the point "farthest" out from which to view the 
text, neither within nor without, but at the contour of the 
text, the position that questions the validity of the 
enclosure as an element of textuality. The exorbitant is, 
therefore, a deconstruction of the hermeneutic idea of 
interpretation, which is based on the notion that the circle 
of understanding is not only not a vicious circle but a 
productive and stimulating paradox. The exorbitant does not 
at all get us out of the circle but calls into question the 
method with which the interpreter proceeds, saying, in 
effect, you cannot consider your interpretation 
transcendental or outside the orbit of any particular 
discourse or discourse "as a whole" because attempting to 
get out reinscribes the circle, and neither can you consider 
your interpretation simply within because enclosure is 
always broached. 

At the contours of Sabbatical there is the story of 
Fenwick's boina. His losing it in the mouth of "The Cove" 


introduces the problem of closure because Fenn expects it to 

come back to him and expects its coming back to close 

another stage of his life; his finding it marks (for Fenn at 

least) , if nothing else, an end. It turns out that Fenn has 

lost the boina twice before, once in the Tajo de Ronda, a 

sheer gorge in Spain, famous for its use in the execution of 

prisoners in the Spanish Civil War, and once at the Choptank 

River Safe-house. Susan wants to know 

Why . . . telling me this story — in the seventh 
year of our marriage, for Christ's sake, on our 
sabbatical — make[s] you believe that your boina 
will float back to you? No: don't touch me. (S 
45) v ~ 

Susan is touchy because the "Story Of Fenwick Turner's 
Boina" involves telling about Fenn's first wife Marilyn 
Marsh and his "first" sabbatical, which they took in Spain. 
There, Fenn lost his boina as he tossed into the Tajo the 
manuscript of a novel that was, for the most part, about him 
and Marilyn Marsh. Susan has, effectively, answered her own 
guestion: "Not only did the Tajo return your hat; it keeps 
returning the story you threw into it" (s 45). When Fenn 
lost his hat again, he "told [his] colleagues this story- 
just the boina part of it. Next day [Fenn's brother 
Manfred] found [the] hat on the beach, washed up by the tide 
right in front of the safe-house" (S 45) . The point is that 
the telling of the story of the hat brings the hat back 3 : 

I will come back to this scene, this coming back of 
the hat, in Chapter IV in terms of Derrida's play with the 
fort: da of Freud, the story of the spool. 


The question before us now is whether it's the 
Ronda story that's needed to bring it back this 
third time or the Choptank River Safe-house story 
whxch I haven't told you yet. (s 46) 

"The Choptank River Safe-house Story" comes much nearer 
Fenn's finding the hat the third time. Getting the hat back 
is important to Fenn because it will signify a new 
beginning— both times he has lost and recovered the hat it 
marked the fact that "a stage of [their] life and [his] was 
over" (S 44) —and because Fenn's writing had become 
associated with the wearing of the hat. In reference to 
that first attempt at fiction, Frank says (in The Tidewater 
Tales) , "Both my hero and I developed the habit of wearing 
our boinas at the typewriter" (TT 408). The recovery of the 
hat this third time may signify his ability to write 

Circling Between Texts 

Both Sabbatical and The Tidewater Tales are framed by 
storms. But the books are not simply parallel, their 
similarity not merely coincidence (unless we mean 
"coincidence" literally) . The storm that appears to end 
Sabbatical (Fenn and Susan run for the cover of Cacaway 
because of the approaching weather) is the same storm that 
appears to begin The Tidew ater Tales . The incidents that 
occur in the "separate" stories coexist. On the day of the 
storm Frank and Lee were "wrung-out." Lee had just had her 


abortion and Frank had decided that he was a failure as a 
writer of fiction. Frank tells Peter and Katherine, 

I kept wishing something amazing would happen, out 
of the blue. ... But the world went on being 
the world: sunshine and sailboats and problems 

Remarks Peter We were there. That's just about 
when I said to Katherine down on Nopoint Point For 
pity^s sake set me a task, and she said Take us 
sailing, and here we are. (TT 416) 

Ss3 ^' in The Tidewater Tales, is Sabbatical. Lee tells all 
of them, 

We could have ducked in here, . . . but since 
there was time to get up to Cacaway, and since 
nothing was settled, we stayed with our island-to- 
lsland thing. When the storm hit, as you probably 
remember, it was a humdinger. 

We remember, all right. But you got more of it 
than we did. (TT 417) 

Before the storm hit, Frank put Act One of his "ovarian" TV 

play, called SEX EDUCATION; P1a Y r into an empty flare 

canister, "and at the last minute [he] stuck this boina in 

there too, for the obvious reason, and [he] floated the 

whole thing off down the tide like baby Perseus in his sea 

chest or Moses in his basket. Return to sender" (TT 417) . 

The floating on the tide of Frank's TV play is the 

tidal return of a long line of messages in bottles and tidal 

returns both in the history of literature (Barth compares 

Perseus and Moses to the sex education script) and in the 

history of Barth 's fiction. In LETTERS Ambrose Mensch makes 

a movie that contains a "water message sequence," which 

reflects his sending and receiving messages in bottles as a 

b °y in Lost in the Funhouse. The "re" of one of Ambrose's 


letters to the Author describes his receipt of "water 
message #2": 

A new letter to me of yesternoon, "washed up" in 
an otherwise almost empty, Barnacled, sea-grown 
magnum of Mumm's Cordon Rouge upon the beach 
before Mensch's Castle during the refilming of the 
"Water Message seguence" of the motion picture 
FRAMES, duly discovered by yours truly, and found 
to consist this time wholly of body, without 
return address, date, salutation, close, or 
signature. To which the late "Arthur Morton 
King's" reply would doubtless be the inverse, like 
Yours Truly 's to me of May 12, 1940. But I have 
commenced the second cycle of my life; I am 
striving through, in order to reach beyond, such 
games. (L 765) 

The water message of May 12, 1940 (water message #1), is the 

one Ambrose found in Lost in the Funhouse . On the top line 

it read, "TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN," and, with nothing in 

between on the next-to-bottom line, "YOURS TRULY" (LF 53). 

"Reaching beyond" the games of his youth, the sending and 

receiving of water messages, the tendency in LETTERS (and 

letters) and Barth's fiction, the fiction of "Yours Truly," 

to return, might be as difficult as holding back the tide. 

That Ambrose has only "commenced the second cycle" of his 

life places him rigidly within the system he wants to 

escape. It is only in the second phase, after one has begun 

to repeat, that the system can be established as cyclical. 

I repeat, it is in the second phase that the system is 

established — not only recognized, but also confirmed. The 

doubling back of the cycle must not be construed as 

establishing an origin. The so-called "beginning" of the 

cycle is always circumscribed. The text never comes back to 

the beginning as it was because the second cycle amounts to 


a deformation of the first, so that, in one sense, the 
first phase should be considered always absent. 4 Ambrose 
says he has commenced the second cycle in order to reach 
beyond it, apparently not realizing that it is the second 
cycle that contains him, not taking into account that he is 
part of the circling fiction. 

In The Tide water Tales Peter recalls that as a boy he 
sent himself out on the tide in a boat to see whether he 
could recover all the messages in bottles that he had sent 
out from the family dock but that had not returned (TT 172). 
The fact that "no messaged bottle cast from the family dock 
had ever been seen again" (TT 172) might disrupt a system of 
return based on tidal currents and messaged bottles and 
therefore disrupt a linguistic system of return generally, 
but Peter distinguishes between the practical experiment and 
a generalized metaphorical necessity: "the unpredicted wind 
had spoiled the experiment: There remained two hours yet to 
tide-turn, by when he would be at sea indeed. What was 
more, even the present gentle breeze would cancel out the 
returning tide; he would have to row the six miles home" (TT 
172) . Though the experiment of Peter's youth failed because 
he could not control all the variables (and in fact would 
always fail because the variables varied with every tide) , 
generally the trend was to return: " nothing he ever saw went 
down the Honga that didn't start there, and it all came back 

In the following section the deformation is 
considered in terms of movement in time. 


on the tide, no different but for a few barnacles" (TT 231) . 
The emphatic "nothing" and "all" seem not to take into 
account the messages in bottles cast out from the family 
dock, but Peter is speaking about a return of a different 
order, a metaphoric circling: "It's just us Hoopers Island 
water folk going out to work and coming home again, 
generation after generation" (TT 2 31) . Even the Hoopers 
Island waterfolk do not necessarily come in on the tide. 
With oars or sail or an engine they might even return 
against the tide. But the tidal return is, in principle , 
like the return of the waterfolk. 

That tidal return is metaphoric does not negate its 
impact on the text. The message is, in fact, made more 
complex in its coming back a metaphor. The Tidewater Tales 
tends to disrupt a simple reading of metaphoricity; within 
the text, the traditional division between the figurative 
and the literal is shown to be untenable. The figurative 
and the literal have a circular relationship in that one 
occupies part of the space of the other. Not only is the 
message in the bottle a metaphor of linguistic return 
generally, but is itself part of the linguistic return for 
which it is a metaphor. What one might have called the 
literal interpretation, the notion of linguistic return, is 
itself at least partly metaphoric. No reading can separate 
return from metaphoricity. The message in the bottle comes 
back on the tide of Barth's fiction. The returning of the 
message is one of the things that returns. 


It almost goes without saying that at a critical point 
in Peter and Katherine's relationship and in Peter's working 
himself out of his less-is-more, self-crippling philosophy 
of writing, they find that flare canister, read Frank's 
play, and are motivated by it to continue their story. 
Peter and Katherine retrieve and don the writerly boina that 
Frank felt he could no longer wear. 

And then the storm. The hat drifting from the 
characters of one story to the characters of the other and 
even (though not in as literal a manner) from one text to 
the other suggests the sequentially of the events. 5 The 
Tidewater Tales was published after Sabbatical . But the 
storm that makes appropriate the use of the flare canister 
in the sending off of the play and the hat is the same storm 
that carries it to Peter and Katherine — "Says Peter Alert 
and Locate" (s 417)— and thereby returns the play and the 
hat to Frank, their sender. The storm that "ends" 
Sabbatical (that does not allow Sabbatical to end) is the 
same storm, happens at the same time, as the one that 
" be 9 ins " The Tidewater Tales. And it is that storm that 
carries Fenn and Susan (in the form of Frank and Lee), 
carries Sabbatical, into The Tidewater Talss . 6 The texts 

The relation between Sabbatical and The Tidewater 
Tales is further developed in Chapter IV wherein the 
"changing" of names becomes a marker for the sequencing of 
narratives and the disruption of the concepts of truth and 

What must be described in terms of the circle as the 
same might in other contexts be described as doubled or 
repeated; on repetition (of events, characters, texts) see 


seem to be part of the same conception. Still wondering how 
to begin toward the apparent end of Sabbatical, Fenn makes a 
statement that is as applicable to the relation between two 
texts as between the beginning and ending of one. Susan 
prompts : 

Which came first? 

They both come first! How could either come 
before the other, except as one twin happens to 
get delivered earlier? (S 365) 

Regardless of their conception, though, one is "delivered 

earlier," Sabbatical was published first. Though it is the 

same storm, it seems to end Sabbatical and begin The 

Tidewater Tales . The sequential ity of the texts would seem 

to disrupt any notion of their circling, but at the point of 

origination and apocalypse circling tends to bring about 

The Collaps ing of TjLme . 

Susan wants to make their story in the shape of a circle for 
the purpose of bringing about that collapse. At the end of 
Sabbatical she says, 

... If that's going to be our story, then let's 
begin it at the end and end at the beginning, so 
we can go on forever. Begin with our living 
happily ever after. (S 365) 

If the beginning of a story is literally the story's 

end, "beginning" and "end" are meaningless, except as 

signifiers of an arbitrary point at which one notices that 

they are meaningless, that the point is arbitrary. Circling 

within a text is the denial of an origin and end, which is 

to say, the wish for immortality. 


Peter and Katherine are told "The Long True Story of 
Odysseus 's Short Last Voyage ,« which was not included in 
Homer's Odyssey (for reasons that will become apparent) and 
which illustrates the telling out of time. Odysseus and 
Nausicaa decided to sail to "The Place Where Time Stands 
Still." "The problem," Odysseus explained to Homer and 
Nausicaa, "was time. ..." 

As Circe had explained it to him, and Calypso had 
subsequently confirmed, The Place Where Time 
Stands Still does not stand still; it recedes to 
westward at exactly the speed of the sun itself, a 
speed no ordinary vessel could hope to approach. 
(TT 2 08) - 

Just at the moment when it looked like Odysseus and Nausicaa 
would fail, Odysseus remembered that he had asked Homer 
about a Phaeacian idiomatic expression Homer had used: "That 
a young fellow certainly can sing up a storm. Being a 
prose-minded Ithacan, he asked Homer whether the tribute was 
literally correct and, if so, whether Homer could teach him 
the knack." Homer replied that "The secret was to find the 
right song for the singer and the occasion, and then (in 
Homer's own words) to let 'er rip" (TT 223). Homer had 
taught Odysseus the first two lines of a new song, and at 
the crucial point, Odysseus sang the first of these lines 
into the sail: 

Once upon a time . . . 

In heartfelt harmony then, Diana says, Nausicaa 
joined him in Line Two, which they sang together 
like this: 

There was a story that bgq sn. . . . No t only 
did the boat surge forward and the sun climb 
visibly a few degrees above the horizon, but when 
it did, instead of facing the problem of Line 
Three (which neither of them knew) , they found 


themselves back at Line One: Once upon a tima . 
And when they followed it with Line Two — There was 
a story that began — there they were, back at Line 
One again, and the sun another few degrees higher. 
Eureka, exclaims laughing Peter Sagamore. 7 (TT 

Odysseus and Nausicaa had found the right song not only 
for singing up a storm but for singing themselves out of 
time. The song is, of course, circular — it collapses 
beginning and end. The "Third Line" is both beginning and 
end at the same time. Strictly speaking, there is no Third 
Line, only the repetitions of lines One and Two. 

The storm that "begins" The Tidewater Talss is, in 
fact, two storms, one at the beginning and one at the end. 
"The first storm— Blaml— was born to a sultry low-pressure 
cell that squatted over Maryland all Sunday, June 15, 1980, 
last weekend before the solstice. . . . Hail and mini- 
twisters; trees downed, roofs unroofed, doors unhinged, 
windows blown . . . and our story begun" (TT 23) . Much of 
the language in the description of the storms would seem to 
establish the movement of The Tidewater Tales as sequential: 
the "first" storm "begins" the story. And the fixing of the 
dates, both the calendar date and the solar date, would seem 
to suggest the structural dominance of time. But the 
storms, both of them, blow structure apart — "roofs unroofed, 
doors unhinged, windows blown." The sequentially and 
temporality in this passage are debris left by the pressure 

The repetition of these lines is very much like the 
reiteration of the standing joke that does not allow 
Sabbatical to begin: "'There was a story that began. . . . 
Oh, tell that story! Tell it again!'" (S 9). 


of language and suggest (is this the first time?) the 
impossibility of a perfect circularity. One word of a text 
must follow another, one sentence another sentence. But if 
time cannot be overcome in a book, it can at least be 
"unhinged," its "windows blown." A story can force us back 
around, not to its beginning but to where we were, with 
"[t]he second storm— Blooey! .— ... our story came 'round 
on itself" (TT 23). " Blam! " and " Blooey 1 " are the terms 
Fenn and Susan haggle over in deciding "what words best 
follow Once upon a time" [S 11]. Peter and Katherine's 
story not only comes around on itself, but also comes around 
on Sabbatical. 

"Once upon a time" is, of course, a convention. By 
convention it establishes a beginning; that is, readers have 
agreed to call this place at which the statement "Once upon 
a time" occurs the beginning. m a sense, anything one says 
will always be understood as following "Once upon a time"— 
everything comes after the beginning. But we should argue 
this point rigorously. If everything is understood as 
following "Once upon a time," then the beginning has always 
already occurred and is not located anywhere. In both 
Sabbatical and The Tidew ater Tal P .s this conventional 
beginning comes even after the apparent first lines of the 
stories, so that even the statement "Once upon a time" is 
marked as coming after the story has begun. "There was a 
story" (the apparent first line of Sabbatical and the "Line 
Two" of the Odysseus story in The Tidewater Tales ) functions 


in the same way as "Once upon a time": they both mark a 
point in time that is previous to the story as the beginning 
of the story. 

A story can be constructed in such a way that the 

delivery of the event that begins the story can coincide 

with the event that also ends the story: 

Blam! cries Kath, A storm at sea. At bay. 
Says Peter Blam Blooey! Two storms. At once. 
(TT 75) 

They decide that the story will be "bracketed" by twin 

storms. The storms twin in the same sense that the 

Sabbatical and The Tidew ater Tal^ are twin— one only 

happens to be delivered earlier. Because in the "Ordinary 

Point Delivery Story, « at the apparent end of "Our Story," 

Peter and Katherine run through the list of events and 

objects to be delivered and the sequence of their delivery 

and because a new title page (including " The Tidewater 

Tales" and an expanded subtitle) follows "Our Story," it is 

implied that "Our Story" occurs preliminary to the "actual" 

story. But the introductoriness of "Our Story" is negated 

by the circling of titles and by the breaking down of 

sequent iality. The event that concludes the inventory of 

their story and the introduction and thereby begins their 

stories , which are The Tidewater Tales . i s the second 

storm— and the first. Let's do that again: since the 

"Ordinary Point Delivery Story" catalogues the order of the 

events of the story, it "ends" with the second storm. Since 

the "end" of the "introduction," which is that delivery 


story, is also the "beginning" of " The Tidewater Tales " (TT 
83), the second storm coincides with the first: 

We understand now what I meant before by two 
storms striking at once, two weeks apart, one up 
at Ordinary Point on the Twenty-ninth and one 
right here, right now, just as the poem's last 
stanza unfolds to read Tell me their story as if 
it weren't ours but like ours enough so that the 
powers that drive and steer good stories might 
fetch them beyond our present plight and — 


Go the twin storms exactly then, their force 
doubled by their combination. They slam together 
into the Eastern Shore of Maryland just as . . . 
there unfolds — 


This book: (TT 82) 

With these words the book literally turns into itself, as 
described in another context, 8 "exactly-at-the-moment-when- 
the-past-overtakes-the-present" (TT 610) . 

When Peter first mentions these two storms, he doesn't 
know just what he means: "Katherine asks him what he means 
blam blooey two storms at once; she doesn't get it. Neither 
does he, says Peter: He just upped and said it. The moon of 
inspiration, he supposes" (TT 75-76) . 

Circling also are meaning and inspiration. It is 
assumed that meaning is prior: one writes in order to convey 

That of the story May Jump tells about Sheherazade, 
who becomes stuck in the present after trying to reestablish 
a love affair with her "real-life" author, who had found 
himself able to move back and forth between her time and 
his; she utters the phrase "what you've done is what you'll 
do" and is propelled through time and across the 
fiction/nonfiction border. Trying to get back to her life 
and time she recounts her story, hoping that at the moment 
when the past of the story overtakes the present, when she 
narrates her narrating presently, she would find herself in 
"her own" time, her past would be present. The Sheherazade 
story will be developed more thoroughly in Chapter III. 


a meaning; the meaning exists before (and even independent 
of) the text used to convey it. The Tidewater Tales r 
though, seems to come before its meaning. Peter and 
Katherine's stories are "chasing the moon and telling 
themselves" (TT 68) . The stories "telling themselves" is 
not simply a personification; that the stories tell 
themselves is essential to the circling text. Meaning is 
not attached by someone outside the work, someone who exists 
prior to it. Meaning is developed, rather, by those who 
will find themselves already involved, by those who, with 
the text, are "chasing the moon," by those, in other words, 
who are going nowhere. The stories are told by narrators so 
much a part of the circling text that they can give us no 
assurances about what the text means; they cannot position 
themselves so as to give us a view of the whole. Indeed, it 
is rather difficult to talk about meaning at all in regard 
to the circling text because meaning requires an exteriority 
the text is incapable of sustaining. 

Even if, against such obstacles as the text's inability 
to support the notion of the priority of meaning, and the 
inevitable collapsing of time, the circle is offered by 
Barth as the figure of narration , there are other 
considerations that question a simple view of narration as 
the representation of a sequence of events. We will see in 
the following chapters that the notions of abortion , 
production , and repetition point out various dilemmas for 
the narrative organization of a text. 


J. Hillis Miller's The Lingu istic Mmsnt r a thorough 
study of the relation between time and language, can help us 
through (or at least into) the problem of time in Sabbatical 
and The Tidewater Tales . Miller notices that language has 
de-temporalized time. He moves back in time (to Wordsworth) 
to dispose of the idea that de-temporalization is a modern 
thing: because it is a function of language, it has taken 
place as long as there has been language. He therefore 
argues against the idea of a "progress of linguistic 
sophistication" (181), making his case in the form of a 
circle, a form that stops time and denies that progress. 

Miller says that works of literature are not just now, 
with the advent of modernism, taking themselves into 
account, incorporating the criticism of other texts, and 
thereby becoming philosophies of literature. Signs have 
always referred to other signs. So works of literature are 
not becoming more sophisticated. The circle seems the 
appropriate metaphor. 

But the shape of The Lingu istic Moment is problematic 
from the beginning: 

The reading of the book, the traversal of the 
never quite complete circling it makes, will bring 
the reader back to where he or she is at the 
beginning. At the beginning, nevertheless, the 
reader is not quite able to know where he or she 
is, or it would not be necessary to read the book 
to get there with a new awareness. (xvii) 

Miller's book can only describe a "noncircular circle" (423) 

or one that is incomplete. For a book to actually be a 

circle, its reader would have to know as much at the 


beginning as at the end. But that is never the case. The 
beginning is never the literal end: "what none of us knows," 
says Peter Sagamore, "is the ending: the thing that's going 
to happen any day now and be news to both of us, sound scan 
or not, and change our lives and start a different story 
altogether" (TT 68) . 

The circling text is always a sham. 

It is suggested that the events of "Our Story" and "Day 
0: Nopoint Point to Dun Cove" occur before the characters 
begin circling in The Tidewater Tales proper. One of the 
reasons Peter and Katherine set sail, one of the reasons, in 
fact, for The Tidewater Tales , is that Peter is having 
trouble telling. Peter begins the "Ordinary Point Delivery 
Story" describing himself: 

Once upon ahem. There was this couple. More 
or less like us? That, um. 

K kisses the crow's-foot at the outboard corner 
of her husband's starboard eye. On with the 

Hum. Well, Him. Redneck bluecollar, right? 
Marshes, tides. Blue crabs. Oysters. 

You have a way with words. 

Declares P. s., warming to his work, Brother 
sister parents? Yeah. Scholarship get out write, 
okay? Stay loose sterilize write! No wife lovers 
travel write. He beams: Then teach-write-Less- 
Is-More-write-write-pfff . How's that. 


Him to a T. (TT 74) 

On Day Katherine demands that Peter tell her a story he 
had mentioned. This is it: 



What do you mean Over? You haven't started! 
But Peter Sagamore insists he's done. (TT 90) 


These types of "stories" occur less frequently after "Day 
0," and as the story progresses they disappear altogether. 
The implication is that the tales are told after Peter's 
problem is worked out and that "Our Story" and "Day 0" are 
told before the problem is worked out, while Peter is still 
stuck. It is implied that Peter and Katherine do not begin 
circling until "Day 1." if the story is circular, though, 
everything has happened before. The introduction too must 
have been written or told after Peter begins to write. It 
is impossible to write a story beforehand, to write the 
story before the story is written. Getting on a circular 
story requires that logic be suspended. The sequential ity 
of qettinq on is denied by the story itself, which, if 
perfectly circular, has always already done away with 
movement in time. 

Peter had wished as a child that he lived on the 
Mississippi River rather than the Honga because the 
Mississippi could carry him out into the world as it did 
Huck Finn and as Huck Finn did Samuel Clemens. The 
Mississippi "doesn't come back, any more than Mark Twain 
went back to being Samuel Clemens of Hannibal," whereas 
everything that "went down the Honga came back on the tide, 
no different but for a few barnacles" (TT 231) . Peter 
understands now though that the difference is significant. 
His reading of Huck Finn again is different because it is 
based on other readings, because he has the experience of 
having already read. The Chesapeake is not the same 


Chesapeake Peter and Katherine sailed before. In Sabbatical 
Fenn and Susan are told that "the Wye Island you returned to 
was not exactly the Wye you left" (S 269). In reference to 
that lost and found boina, Frank says of the hat that Peter 
and Katherine returned to him, "This isn't it." Katherine 
is disappointed because, if it were the same hat, there 
would have been a story in it. But its being different does 
not bother Frank: "This hat here is the lineal successor to 
that one. He frisbees it over to [Katherine]. if the boina 
fits, wear it" (TT 409). Frank's point is twofold: even if 
this is not the same hat, it is like enough to the old one 
to function in the same way and to be caught up in the same 
metaphors and the same plot of their story— the boina does 
fit; and even if it is the same hat, the hat cannot be the 
same—it has been in the water for at least a week. 

Getting off the circle is as problematic as getting on. 
If we are presently circling within a text, then 
communicating something about the text to someone outside or 
applying knowledge about the text to an outside work is 
impossible. Lois Parkinson Zamora describes Barth's works 
in general as self-contained: "Barth's novelistic games 
demand enclosure" and therefore his fictions "set forth 
rules which operate within the work and are relevant only 
within that work" (28). Miller says of The Linguistic 
Moment, "My enterprise ... is a search to locate a ground 
beyond language for the linguistic patterns present in my 
poems. Who would not wish to escape the prison house of 


language and stand where one could see it from the outside?" 
(xvii) . Though it is not clear that he could get outside 
language in any case, it is clear that he understands the 
confinement of the circular text, in Chapter Two circling 
will still be an issue. 

In the linguistic moment time is committed to space. 
Every poem that Miller describes is a "version of a spatial 
emblem of human temporality" (xv) . He suggests by the 
consistency of his examples that there are no temporal 
emblems of time, that in language, in the "linguistic 
moment," time must be described spatially, but concludes the 
spatial image, in particular the circle, is never successful 
at seeing the "riddle of temporality" (433). Time can only 
be described, written, spatially and so is stopped in 
language, is localized, planted, grounded, in a non- 
temporal element. 

Language itself is a "non-temporal element." One 
doesn't have the choice whether to use language spatially. 
A "fundamental feature of literature" is the search for a 
ground before or after time, "something that will support 
time, encompass it, still its movement" (Miller xvi-xvii) . 

In response to Susan's suggestion that they make 
Sabbatical circular so that they can go on forever, Fenn 
says, "we both know that not even a story is ever after." 
So they "conclude, that they lived": 

Happily after, to the end 

Of Fenwick and Susie. ... (s 366) 


1. Organizing Barth's Texts 

With Sabbatical . Barth's eighth novel, which, not 
incidentally, has slipped prematurely out of print, the 
image of abortion becomes directly involved in the disposal 
of the text, such that abortion becomes a way of talking 
about writing. In Barth's previous work, as well as in 
Sabbatical . abortion is always connected to a decision 
concerning order. More specifically, it is the decision of 
the woman concerning the organization of her life and the 
condition of her body. The body of the woman is 
incorporated, though, into the text so that a corpus of 
works or the corpus of a work is subject, like the woman, to 
conception and abortion. Barth's notion of the text as the 
body of the woman forces us to consider the ramifications of 
abortion on the orderliness of texts. By attempting to put 
his stories in order (to dispose of them — from the Latin 
disp_onere, to arrange) Barth finds that orderliness is 
always sucked away. The reverse of that is also true: in 
trying to dispose of a story by getting rid of it some of 
the organization makes itself felt; the removal has an 



organizational impact on the remainder of the text or 
corpus . 

Already, perhaps, what I have said about abortion 
illustrates the difficulty of establishing an organization. 
The following complications must be included. That the 
abortion is the decision of the woman is not to say that she 
is unaffected by the father or the masculine orientation of 
her society, but rather that it is a decision made amid the 
assertion of an independence. For example, though Fenn's 
reluctance to be a father again is part of the reason for 
Susan's abortion in Sabbatical . Susan's decision to have the 
abortion is made under the auspices of a silence that 
reinscribes her and Fenn's separateness. That the decision 
concerns the order of her life is not to say that it does 
not affect the lives of those around her, the father's life 
in particular, but rather that the problem of organization 
is always partly textual, always a question of the life- 
corpus, so to speak. One of the consequences of speaking of 
a text as abortive or as having been aborted is the 
association of the text with the child that might have been 
born. But the question of abortion is never simply whether 
or not to have a child because the delivery of the child is 
always to be considered the delivery of another part of the 
corpus, which cannot be reduced to the mother-child 

From the outset we will have noticed that talking about 
abortion is problematic because any description is partly an 


attempt at establishing an order and therefore subject to an 
inevitable disruption. Ordering is itself an abortion 
because it entails the delivery of an imperfect or premature 

By taking up the issue of abortion, Sabbatical comes 
back to an image integral to Barth's earlier works. For 
example, The End of the Roari r Barth's second novel, 
concludes with Rennie Morgan's abortion and death. In order 
to understand the relation between The End of the Road and 
Sabbatical 's involvement with abortion, the possibility of 
orderliness, we need to discover what leads to the abortion 
in The End of the Road . The dilemma Rennie faces, whether 
to abort the child she carries or to commit suicide, is tied 
to the organization of the family and the logic of 
dichotomy, a logic never completely separate from the family 

Joe Morgan and Jacob Horner represent the classical 
moral split between good and evil and its philosophical 
counterpart, the split between reason and chaos. 

Joe was The Reason, or Being (I was using Rennie 's 
cosmos) ; I was The Unreason, or not being; and the 
two of us were fighting without quarter for 
possession of Rennie, like God and Satan for the 
soul of Man. (ER 129) 

Rennie, Joe's wife, is caught between them. She is the 
betweenness always present in division, the "point" at which 
Joe and Jake come together. The fact that Joe and Jake do 
come together or, more precisely, were never actually 


separate, makes the idea of an identifiable "point" of 
connection problematic: 

I mention this because it applies so often to 
people ^s reasoning about their behavior in 
situations that later turn out to be regrettable- 
it is possible to watch the sky from morning to 
midnight, or move along the spectrum from infrared 
to ultraviolet, without ever being able to put 
your finger on the precise point where a 
qualitative change takes place; no one can say 

It is exactly here that twilight becomes night " 
or blue becomes violet, or innocence guilt. One 
can go a long way into a situation thus without 
finding the word or gesture upon which initial 
responsibility can handily be fixed— such a lonq 
way that suddenly one realizes the change has 
already been made, is already history, and one 
rides along then on the sense of an inevitability 
a too-lateness, in which he does not really 
believe, but which for one reason or another he 
does not see fit to question. (ER 100-01) 

In describing the split between The Reason and The 

Unreason, Jake uses "Rennie's cosmos" because he knows that 

that "pretty ontological manichaeism would certainly stand 

no close examination" (ER 129). Rennie struggles to uphold 

the categories because she has a vested interest: her 

husband defines himself in terms of rationality and truth 

and she defines herself in terms of her husband; if Joe is 

not entirely rational, if he cannot be entirely truthful, 

Rennie's position is untenable, her world (her "cosmos") is 

meaningless. Though Rennie would keep Joe and Jake 

separate, it is she who precipitates the breakdown of the 

categories they represent, the crossing over of reason and 

chaos. "The trouble," Jake says, speaking about Rennie's 

perception of him and Joe, ". . . is that the more one 

learns about a given person, the more difficult it becomes 


to assign a character to him that will allow one to deal 
with him effectively in an emotional situation. . . . [A]s 
soon as one knows a person well enough to hold contradictory 
opinions about him" (ER 128), the myths of consistency and 
finiteness are disposed of. 

Jake takes it upon himself (not for entirely selfish or 
evil reasons— Jake cannot be entirely anything) to show 
Rennie that Joe cannot possibly be the person she thinks he 
is and thereby shake up her false sense of stability. 
Rennie thinks that Joe is "the same man today he was 
yesterday, all the way through. He's Genuine!" Jake 
applies Rennie 's idea of Joe to Rennie herself because he 
realizes that her sense of being is dependent on who her 
husband is, and therefore her "genuineness" is brought 
dangerously into guestion. If she defines herself in terms 
of someone else, then she cannot be "true to herself," she 
cannot be "genuine." Because her identity is based on 
something exterior, it is by her own definition, false. 
This is a more general problem of family relations, of the 
relation between husband and wife. If it is assumed that 
they lose their separate identities in marriage, that they 
become one person (in Sabbatical Susan's grandmother takes 
this point of view [S 260]), the relation will be shaken, 
because, inevitably, something is learned about the other 
person that reestablishes that person's otherness, the 
couple's initial separateness. 


Jake wonders whether Rennie is genuine. "I don't know. 

Joe's strong enough to take care of me, I guess. I don't 

care" (ER 68). He convinces Rennie to eavesdrop on Joe, but 

she, of course, is hesitant and defensive: "Real people 

aren't any different when they're alone. No masks. What 

you see of them is authentic" (ER 71) . what they see, 

though, begins Rennie's "disintegration" (ER 128). standing 

in the middle of the room, Joe smartly executes military 

commands; he pirouettes, bows, leaps, and winds up 

masturbating in his reading chair. 

Rennie closed her eyes and pressed her forehead 
against the window sill. I stood beside her, out 
of the light from the brilliant living room, and 
stroked and stroked her hair, speaking softly in 
her ear the wordless, grammarless language she'd 
taught me to calm horses with. (ER 71) 

It turns out that only wordlessness and grammarlessness 

could allow them to escape their dilemma. The inevitable 

breakdown of categories, particularly those of dualistic 

division, is a linguistic phenomenon: 

"You're as bad as Joe is. I think all our trouble 
comes from thinking and talking too much. We talk 
ourselves into all kinds of messes that would 
disappear if everybody just shut up about them." 
(ER 131) 

Jake agrees with Rennie about the source of the problem 
but denies the possibility of a solution. The apparent 
ambivalence of Rennie's feelings toward Jake, he thinks, is 
"only a pseudo-ambivalence whose source was in the 

it was both single and simple, like all feelings 
it was also completely particular and individual, 
and so the trouble started only when she attempted 


to label it with a common name such as love or 
abhorrence . . . . Assigning names to things is 
like assigning roles to people: it is necessarily 
a distortion, but it is a necessary distortion if 
one would get on with the plot. (ER 141-42) 

Jake sees their positions as essentially textual— "getting 
on with the plot" is tantamount to the working out of their 
lives—and so he sees their problem as inescapable. They 
are, in fact, part of a text, part of The End of the Road . 
If they were -real people," though, they would have no less 
of a problem dealing with language. "Shutting up" (Rennie 's 
suggestion) is never a real option, we would nevertheless 
rationalize, interpret, and remember, activities that are 
based on language and that define us as humans. Joe says of 

"You won't rationalize. You didn't make any 
conscious interpretations of anything Rennie did. 
And you can't remember any conversations. Have I 
got to agree with Rennie that you don't even 
exist? What else makes a man a human being except 
these things?" (ER 145) 

Joe represents that force in the world that would inevitably 
reattach us to language and to the paradoxes inherent in it. 
He is of the opinion that Rennie has "'got to decide once 
and for all what she really feels about [Jake] and [him] and 
herself" (ER 145) . 

Rennie is completely incapable of making those 
decisions. The categories by which her world is constructed 
will simply not allow her to choose. Reason and chaos, good 
and evil have become, for her, confused. She is the fact 
that the elements of the dichotomy define, and so are 
dependent on, each other. The tension between Joe and Jake, 


the fact that Rennie doesn't know which one is the father of 
the child she carries, leads her to what seems like an 
arbitrary decision, but one that nevertheless is made 
inevitable by her impossible position between : »'i don't 
know,' Rennie said. 'I'm going to get an abortion or shoot 
myself, Joe. I've decided'" (ER 152). She chooses abortion 
but winds up being killed as well. (Even in the end, the 
second option can never actually be eliminated.) The issue 
of the dichotomy in The End of thp po.h is abortion and 

The Issue of Abortion 

I can say Sabbatical takes up "the issue of abortion" 
without limiting myself to a thematic reading, to speaking 
of abortion as a metaphor for the sucking away of 
orderliness, issue is a complex term that demands attention 
because it can mean a number of interrelated things: it can 
be a means or place of going out, an exit; the final outcome 
or result; termination; offspring, progeny; something coming 
forth from a specified source (as in "issues of a disordered 
imagination"); a discharge (as of blood) from the body; etc. 
All these meanings will come into play in the following 
disposal of Barth's texts. Trying to come to a conclusion 
about how they feel and what they should do, Joe demands 
that Jake stick to the issue: "'I want you to forget about 
everything except what's to the point and what's beside the 
point'" (ER 153). The problem for Jake is that nothing is 
absolutely "beside the point." m order to analyze a 


situation, aspects of it must be ignored, even though they 
are not completely extraneous. And even if he wanted to 
take into account the whole story, it would be too long to 
ever finish recounting. (The narrators of Sabbatical claim 
fatalistically, "we ourselves may never know one another's 
whole story" [S 302]. Some of it will have to be ignored, 
and some of it inevitably will be forgotten or lost.) Whole 
stories are never known. Every analysis, therefore, is a 
distortion. With every disposal of a problem the 
orderliness on which the problem can be established is found 
to be problematic. This is dramatized by Rennie's dilemma. 
She divides her options into two categories: abortion and 
death. But abortion, in itself, is not a real option; they 
know of no competent doctor who will perform it, and so 
Rennie dies because of the abortion. 

The thematics of abortion cannot simply be gotten rid 
of. Abortion is an issue. But we should also understand 
this to mean that abortion is the result — the result of a 
conflict between oppositions and of the textual 
impossibility of orderliness. (The multiplicity of the term 
issue is itself an example of the problematic split between 
thematic and textual readings. Issue means both subject and 
result, among other things.) 

LETTERS , Barth's seventh novel, might be thought of as 
a point of division of Barth's career because it is one of 
the major attempts within the corpus to organize the corpus 


itself. 9 it incorporates his previous novels in a dialogue, 
carried on through letters, between the characters of those 
novels and between those characters and their "Author." 
LETTERS is essentially the putting into order of Barth's 
fiction up to that point in time (it was copyrighted in 
1979) . 

The title that appears on the title page, which looks 
something like a computer card, is also the subtitle of the 
















E N 
C H 
H I 



E L 
F I 

A M 

M A 

A L 

The letters that make up the title, LETTERS , and subtitle, 
An Old Time Epistolary Novel h v Seven Fictitious Droll * a .H 
Dreamers Each of which Imagines Himself Anhiai , function as 
the scheme of organization of the novel. The first chapter, 
which is titled "L," is divided into subchapters "A," »b," 
"C," »d," "E," "F," "G," "l,» "N» and "E," the letters that 
make up the L; the second chapter is titled »E," etc. The 
play with this puzzle is exemplary of a text that is 
motivated by the organization of texts. For Barth, the 
puzzle is at least partly a game. It lacks the seriousness 
forced on us by the assumption of the rigidness of systems 

See, for example, Robbins 2 22. 


of organization. The puzzle doesn't quite work; or, rather, 
in order to make the puzzle work, Barth has had to dispose 
of a rule of grammar. In an interview by Angela Gerst, 
Barth is asked about the awkward "each of which " used to 
refer to "drolls & dreamers": 

B: Unavoidable. Whom doesn't have enough 

XcULci S ■ 

G: To total eighty-eight? 

B: And to put the g of imagines in the right 
position in a certain pattern, an alphabetical 
acrostic. (FB 173) 

Barth does not compromise his text by thus making the puzzle 
"fit," by jeopardizing the title's grammatical system of 
organization. Something consequential, something serious, 
is thereby learned about the possibility of putting texts in 

Jerome Bray's computer, which would use and create 
cards such as this one, will never have worked out all its 
bugs because it cannot take into account the sucking away of 
orderliness, the fact that the categories with which it 
begins will inevitably be problematic. 

Bray's computer generates a " schema for the rise and 
fall of . . . dramatic action," which is based on the 
conventional model "sometimes called Freitag's Triangle": 


A B D E 

The new schema is called the "Golden-Triangular Freitag": 


A D 2 C (L 146) 

This revised organization illustrates a story's turning in 
on itself and reflects the computer's "vexing" "tendency to 
self-mimicry" (L 147) . Self-mimicry is "vexing" because it 
can reveal contradictions or flaws within the system being 
mimicked. We can use the "Golden-Triangular Freitag" itself 
as the example. Though the new schema can suggest a story's 
turning in on itself, its self-reflection, and possibly even 
a "tendency to self-mimicry," it cannot also represent its 
self-destruction, which is caused by the turning in, etc. 
No model can represent simply the absence of order because 
as a model it would entail an organization, however 
provisional, because, in other words, the model would 
countermand its own representation. Whereas The End of fcfrg 
Road warns that abortion can be self -destructive, LETTERS 
argues that it is not necessarily or absolutely self- 

LETTERS cannot function simply as an organization of 
Barth's previous fiction. Inevitably, there occurs in the 
rewriting, in the self -reflect ion, a deconstruct ion— the 
principles of organization are tested against the text in 
which they reside. in the final letter, "L: The Author to 
the Reader, LETTERS is 'now' ended. Envoi . . " the author 
"goes forward with Horace's 'labor of the file': rewriting, 


editing, dismantling the scaffolding, testing the wiring and 
the plumbing . . . « (L 771). LETTERS cannot actually be the 
point of division of Barth's career—the end of a stage 
isalways provisional, the "now" must always be questioned 
with quotation marks. One of the items in the "file" — 
"sloop Brillig found abandoned in Chesapeake Bay off mouth 
of Patuxent River, all sails out, C.I. A. documents in 
attache case aboard. Body of owner, former C.I. A. agent, 
recovered from Bay one week later, 40 pounds of scuba-diving 
weights attached, bullet hole in head" (L 772)— is the 
parent of "The Strange True Case of John Arthur Paisley" of 
Sabbatical and T he Tidewater Tales , issues ( Webster gives 
us) of a disordered imagination. 

Dispos ing of t-.he Tevh 

In deciding how to organize their story, what to 
include, what needs to be developed, Susan and Fenn, the 
narrators of Sabbatical, come back around to the footnote to 
the initial problematic "we" and Susan's ambiguous tears: 

This we, those verses, Susan's tears, these 
notes at the feet of certain pages— all shall be 
made clear, in time. (S 9) 

At her mentioning of her sister Miriam's being gang-raped at 
Virginia Beach and being tortured by the Shah's thugs, Susan 
is weeping again, and "The reader now understands, but for 
one detail, her tears of some pages past" (S 47). Fenn 
wonders whether Susan is okay. 

I'm okay, I'm okay. That little exposition [the 
story of Miriam's other rapes] will have to be 


fleshed out in our story or flushed out from it 
(S 47) 

We should wonder whether "flushing out" that little 
exposition will be as easy as Susan suggests, as simple as 
an editorial pen stroke or the addition of a footnote. The 
mention of Susan's tears and one of their principle causes, 
the rapes of Miriam, has already been incorporate , has 
already been made part of the body of the text, the flesh of 
the story. As signs, tears and Miriam's t-r P ^ will have a 
variety of influences on the text: graphic, semantic, 
thematic, etymological. And, as part of the story, the 
tears and Miriam's rapes will, to some extent, control the 
movement of the plot— Susan has her abortion, at least 
partly, because of the rapes and the moronic child that 
issues from them. 

We all try, less and less successfully as Sy grows 
older and larger, not to image in him the beefy 
sadist who got him forcibly upon skinny Mims. It 
was not Sy's fault! We all— no doubt even Miriam, 
though she has not said so— wish much she had 
aborted or, failing that, miscarried or even given 
the child up for adoption: the unlucky lad senses, 
even m his mother, our want of easy warmth with 
him. (S 265) 

Miriam's irresponsibility extends to her second child, 
Edgar Allan Ho. Visiting Susan on board, the three of them 
go a long way toward demolishing the boat. "The blood and 
tomato stains in the teak deck planking, like the shoe- 
leather scratches on the cabin and cockpit soles . . . will 
yield to laborious refinishing next season" (s 155) , but 
while Susan is cleaning up after Sy and discovering Miriam's 
cigarette burns on the chart table and washstand, Edgar 


discovers the galley knife-rack and slashes the custom made 
cockpit cushions. 

Telling all this to Fenn later, Susan says that 

Mainly Mims wanted to know why we don't have 

. . . [Fenn] put the hand-bearing compass down 
on the slashed cockpit cushion. 
What'd you tell her? 

The point is that the ordeal of Miriam and her children's 

visit, specifically (in this example) the slashed cockpit 

cushion, is representative of the irresponsibility and 

mediocrity of which Susan wants no part: 

I compared my feelings about parenthood to Kafka's 
about marriage: that it's the single most 
important thing in human life, and that my 
standards for it are self-defeatingly high. 
... I couldn't go much farther down my 
Superkid road with her because of Sy and Ho. I 
just told her again that being an ordinary 
mediocre parent doesn't interest me. (S 164) 

The "one detail," which Fenn mentioned was also a reason for 

Susan's tears, is that she is pregnant or, more to the 

point, that she got pregnant accidentally, without their 

deciding that it is the right thing to do. She and Fenn 

have already been irresponsible and thereby represent the 

ordinary and mediocre mass of parents who have their 

children without the slightest idea why. 

I need to keep this argument under control and get back 

to the original point (though, in a sense, getting back 

there is the same problem as flushing out the extraneous 

from our text). Because Susan's tears, Miriam, her rapes 

and her children and her general irresponsibility are 

already part of the text, because Sabbatical has already 


been inseminated by these signs, the signs can only be 
flushed out after they have shown themselves to be present, 
which makes getting rid of them problematic and introduces a 
textual inevitability. The rape has already been conceived, 
the idea already given significance. 

Susan, herself, has already begun to "show" — her 
"breasts have been engorged since last April," her stomach 
slightly protrudes, and "she has experienced more freguent 
nausea all spring than she believes can be attributed to 
seasickness and subtropical food. [S]he infers herself, 
therefrom, to be two months pregnant" (S 289) . After 
examining Susan her obstetrician announces that "Goodell's, 
Chadwick's, and Hegar's signs . . . are all present" (S 
230) . Susan and her doctor set up her conception and 
pregnancy in terms of signs and significance and so give the 
abortion all the complications of textuality, one of which, 
particularly active here, is the problem of flushing out the 
extraneous. There are at least two things that make 
removing a sign from a text problematic: (1) the sign will 
inevitably have had an impact on the surrounding text 
(removing the text that has been influenced will simply 
leave the editor with another, perhaps greater, portion of 
text to be removed, ad infinitum or until there is nothing 
left but the text's absence), so that (2) marks of erasure 
or deletion will always remain; the removal itself becomes 
significant' — absence becomes part of what the text means. 
Within the context of the story of Susan's abortion, 


Fenn wonders . . . whether formidable Carmen has 
been earning her keep in our story. The artist 
Claus Oldenburg once bought a pencil drawing by 
the artist William de Kooning, erased the drawing, 
and exhibited what was left under the title Erased 
de Kooning, by Claus Oldenburg. (S 23 6) 

Though Fenn's example crosses mediums of expression, it is 

essentially to the point, and to some extent it is the title 

(the words) "Erased de Kooning" that points out what the 

work is about, gives it the significance of the erasure. 10 

Though the work becomes something else, even perhaps someone 

else's, it does so only in terms of signs that have been 

erased, of what has been made absent, of absence itself. 

The name de Kooning and the work that was "his" make 

themselves present even in their erasure. Carmen is 

"formidable" not only in her personality (as a character) 

but because she is composed of signs and is already part of 

the text. 

In "Dissemination" Derrida argues this point in terms 
of the erasure of traces : "Since the trace can only imprint 
itself by referring to the other, to another trace ('the 
trace of its reflection'), by letting itself be forgotten, 
its force of production stands in necessary relation to the 
energy of its erasure" (3 31) . The question of erasure is, 
in part, the questioning of "presence"; if the trace only 
imprints itself by referring to another trace, one that 
(because of the imprinting) has been erased, then "presence" 

10 In describing the author disposed of, Fenn makes the 
mistake of attributing the drawing to Claus Oldenburg, in 
effect, disposing of (committing to erasure) the name of the 
artist to which it should be attributed — Robert Rauschenberg . 


and "absence" are no longer absolute. Derrida says 
elsewhere that the text is produced only in the 
transformation of another text: "Nothing, neither among the 
elements nor within the system, is anywhere ever simply 
present or absent. There are only, everywhere, . . . traces 
of traces" (Positions 26) , which is to say erasures of 
erasures. We never have available, can never even point to, 
the so-called "original sign." 

Abortion is not something that can happen without 
having an effect, both because it is a momentous event in 
anyone's life and because as a sign it has an impact on the 
meaning of its text. After her ordeal with Miriam and her 
children and her realization that she would be a failure at 
raising the perfect child, Susan understands her life as 
"empty and stupid" (S 164). What is remarked as missing 
comes to be what this book is about. 

Susan has been faking her periods since she and Fenn 
were in the Caribbean and even marking them down in the log: 

Let each asterisk represent a night, beginning 
with that Sunday night the first of June: we 
emblemize the period both of Susan's menses . . 
and of Pokey's stop at Solomons Island. ... (s 

Because Susan has been faking, these asterisks emblemize 
(for both of them, even then— Fenn knows Susan has been 
faking) the menstruation she should havp h*H but didn't. 

Susan's period would have also functioned as a sign, 
signifying that for the present everything, in the 
conception way, is as it was. And, as is always the case, 


the sign's absence is significant (perhaps even more so than 
its presence) because it marks a change, a difference. 

The fact that those asterisks emblemize "the period 
both of Susan's menses . . . and of Pokey 's stop at 
Solomons" (emphasis mine) illustrates that the movement of 
the voyage, the movement of Sabbatical, is keyed to the 
menstrual cycle and, as we will see, to the process of 
conception and abortion as well. 

In many respects, Fenn and Susan's story is also their 
child, though it is, as of yet, unborn — they speak of 
Sabbatical as if it were still in the planning stages. As 
they actually conceive a child, they create this story. In 
a very different sense, we must think of the child as having 
been delivered. We hold Sabbatical before us; it is a story 
already told, though it has not, as of yet, been brought to 

Swimming in Poe Cove, their first anchorage after their 
long open ocean passage and after their reentering the 
Chesapeake Bay, in Poe Cove, which at first they think is 
"perfectly empty," Fenn "stirs to the surface what looks 
like a light colored rag" (s 25) and turns out to be a large 
paisley scarf. Fenn wears it on his head, pirate fashion, 
to protect him from the sun— he has recently lost his boina . 
He thereby associates himself with the paisleys, which they 
later decide remind them of sperm. This, of course, isn't 
the first cove that they assumed was empty but later 


discovered was occupied— not only by Fenn's sperm but by the 
fetus Susan will abort. 

Part I of Sabbatical sets up much of the metaphoric 
significance of terms used throughout the book. Part I is 
titled "The Cove" and subtitled "Key," though subtitled is 
not quite the right description for this play of titles. On 
page 7 appear only the number "I" and the words "The Cove" 
italicized thus: 

The Cove 
If "Key" were simply a subtitle, it would normally appear on 
the same page as this main title. But we find it on the 
following facing page as if it were the title of the first 
chapter of the first part: 


There was a story that began, 

Said Fenwick Turner: Susie and Ferm — 

in fact, the title "Key" is Printed in the same typeface and 

position as the titles of the chapters of Parts II and III, 

the only difference being that the chapters of Parts II and 

III are also numbered. For example, the title of the first 

chapter of Part II reads: 

Since there are no divisions of the first part, "Key" cannot 
logically be the title of a chapter within Part I or a "sub- 
part"— besides the title "The Cove" it is all there is of 
Part I. 


"The cove" and "Key" are derived from the cove and the 
island at which Susan and Fenn make their first stop and 
which turn out to be the basis for the sexual metaphorics of 
Part I. They are also named after the authors whom Susan 
and Fenn like to claim as relatives and whom (whether 
related or not) they are, in part, named after. Indirectly, 
Susan and Fenn name the cove and the island after themselves 
(Susan Rachel Allan Seckler, the namesake of Edgar Allan Poe 
from which the name Poe Cove ; Fenwick Scott Key Turner, the 
namesake of Francis Scott Key from which the name Key 
Island ) : 

You're my island, sleepy Susan murmurs, kissinq 
her husband's chest. She lays her head there 
briefly in the salt-and-pepper fuzz, then sits up: 
to hear his heart beat breaks her heart. 

He kisses her lap. You're my cove. Puts an 
ear to her tidy belly as if to listen for a 
heartbeat there. (S 26) 

With this passage nomination becomes involved with 

sexuality. "Poe Cove" is a reference, made here perhaps too 

obvious, to Susan; the cove is vaginal— Fenn kisses Susan's 

"lap" and calls her his "cove"— and it is also womb-like— 

after identifying Susan with the cove, Fenn puts his ear to 

her belly "as if to listen for a heartbeat." Fenn's 

listening for the heartbeat foreshadows our being told that 

there is actually something there; upon rereading, the "as 

if" becomes ironic. Fenn pretends to listen for a heartbeat 

as_if he doesn't know that Susan is pregnant. 

Though it is difficult to think of an island as 

phallic, and thereby able to represent, appropriately, 


Fenn's sexuality, that problem is circumscribed. in terms 
of Fenn, it isn't the word island or the idea of islandness 
but rather the name of the island that is the key. Notice 
that the title and "subtitle" of the first part are not 
parallel: "The Cove" is the common noun that designates, 
generally, this type of thing; "Key" is a proper noun that 
designates for Fenn and Susan this particular island. (A 
key is also, though not primarily in this case, a type of 
island— one that is low-lying, such as, not incidentally, 
Key Island: "The island, though low-lvina . is more woods 
than marsh . . . " [S 25, emphasis mine].) Key, the idea, 
the thing, and the story, is phallic, it is no accident 
(unlike Susan's conception) that "Key" is inside "The Cove," 
that in its function as the title of a sub-part it signifies 
a text within or enveloped by "The Cove"; the key (the 
thing, the island, and the story) is also that by which 
access is gained, with which an entrance is made (an 
entrance into the text, the metaphorics of sexuality, and, 
as we will see, metaphorics as a subject— a subject of 
metaphors). "The Cove" is the Keyhole. As the subtitle of 
the only "division," "Key" must be read in conjunction with 
the title. Though "Key" is phallic, it is not only phallic. 
"Key" exists only in its relation to "The Cove." Without 
"Key" "The Cove" would be empty of everything but those 
words, the title itself— it would designate little more than 
emptiness. And without the title "The Cove," "Key" would be 
drained of a phallic significance that has come about 


structurally. calling the first part simply or mostly womb- 
like or vaginal because "The Cove" comes first or is "the 
main" title would be a mistake too. "The Cove" appears 
first because it encloses "Key," not because it has a larger 
or primary significance. 

The problem of representing the sexuality of Sabbatical 
is mostly a graphic and structural one. in the case of the 
titles of the first part, Barth relies on a general 
understanding of the organization of texts, specifically the 
logic of subdivision. In recognizing the representation of 
the masculine and the feminine we must have noticed that the 
logic of subdivision has been disrupted. By "disrupted" I 
do not mean simply "done away with," because, in doing away 
with that logic, the titles are given their sexual 
significance and thereby given another system of 
organization. An orderliness of some kind will inevitably 
reestablish itself. 

I began this section by describing the "disposal of the 
text": putting a text (or texts) in order is, in Barth, 
always accompanied by the disruption of an orderliness. I 
want to make it clear that Barth 's books prefer or 
presuppose neither order nor disorder. To say that 
orderliness inevitably reestablishes itself does not 
contradict the idea of disposal; that is, though they are 
the reverse of each other, they do not cancel each other 
out. When a text is disposed of, we are not left with a 
chaotic, an irrational, work, one that will not involve 


itself in or acknowledge reason. in fact, reading demands 
orderliness, organization, reason; but it also entails their 
disruption. in "Reading (Proust)" Paul de Man explores the 
consequences of a text that narrates the impossibility of 
reading. He asks whether stories that offer themselves as 
examples of that impossibility can be read. If a story 
makes contradictory demands on a reader—this is in a sense 
a definition of abortion fiction—how are those demands 
taken into account? Just as one recognizes that it is 
"forever impossible to read Reading" one must "'understand' 
that this word bars access, once and forever, to a meaning 
that yet can never cease to call out for its understanding" 
(de Man 77) . "Understanding" is brought into question by 
the inevitable difficulty of a text's being able to contain 
the questioning of understanding, of a reading that calls 
for orderliness just as it disrupts the order on which one 
bases that reading. How does one decide that a text cannot 
be read? Certainly not by referring to an unreadable text. 
That would beg the question of readability. The demand for 
understanding and for orderliness is reinscribed in their 

We can incorporate, here, the idea of a discharge . 
Though an author or an author's book can be released from 
the demands of a particular type of organization, something 
of that organization will remain and will place other 
demands, perhaps in other terms, on the author and the work. 
Though Susan has her abortion, the problem of her relation 


to Fenn remains. And, indeed, the reverberation of the 
"twin schlups" (S 295) made by the abortion machine have 
thematic and even organizational repercussions throughout 
the text. Susan's guess that she had two abortions — "Susan 
wails into his chest-hair It was twins! it was Drew and 
Lexie! I didn't have an abortion, Fenn. I had two 
abortions" (S 332) — recalls a flood of twinships, doublings, 
repetitions, and oppositions. There is, in fact, a good 
chance that she had two abortions because both she and Fenn 
are themselves twins. Fenn and Manfred are allowed to 
represent, provisionally, the division between good and 
evil; Susan and Miriam the difference between controlled 
restlessness and wild dissatisfaction. They also 
acknowledge the twinship of interruption and writing, doing 
and telling, writing and loving (S 365) , the dualism of the 
fork, of analysis and synthesis, left and right, Baltimore 
and Washington, Wye Island and Swarthmore (S 345) , 
substitute and compliment (s 362), Romance and Realism (s 
362), fiction and lie (S 126), beginning and end ("Big Bang 
to Black Hole" [S 360]), dream and story, their life and 
their voyage (s 2 00) , work and play (s 159) , etc. For Fenn, 
this is his second sabbatical, and Susan is his second wife; 
it peeves Susan that there are two Mrs. Fenwick Turners (the 
first has retained her married name) (S 311) . Fenn and 
Susan also see themselves in terms of the opposition between 
reading and writing: Fenn is the writer, an aspiring artist, 
Susan the professional reader, a professor of literature (S 


338). Nearest at hand, perhaps, is the duality of "The 
Cove" and "Key," of the male and female in general. 

"Abortion Fiction" is not an acknowledgement or a 
restatement of what has too often been called the self- 
destruct iveness of Barth 's works. In "John Barth: The 
Teller Who Swallowed His Tale," for example, Sanford Pinsker 
says that by analyzing language Barth comes to a "dead end," 
and his work defeats itself: 

In short, Barth is not so much the great destroyer 
of Modernism — exaggerating its faults through 
extended parody, etc. — as he is the devourer of 
his own Art. The principle that "fiction must 
acknowledge its f ictitiousness and metaphoric 
invalidity" . . . might be an intriguing thesis, 
even the subject of an academic symposium, but, 
baldly stated, it is a poor narrative line on 
which to hang one's story. (68) 

In "The Anti-Novels of John Barth," Beverly Gross contends 

that Barth 's fiction leads to "the repudiation of narrative 

art," that each of his books through Giles Goat-Bov is "an 

anti-novelistic assault on itself." In the end, though, 

Gross repudiates her own argument. Fiction, and 

specifically the novel, is a necessary and even positive 

endeavor for Barth: "He is not quite affirming life but he 

is negating lifelessness. He is not quite affirming art but 

he is negating silence" (Gross 109) . With that conclusion 

Gross's title and her thesis about the repudiation of 

narrative art are brought into question; it places Barth 

somewhere between the negation and the affirmation of 

fiction, the novel, and narrative, but, if we can interpret 

her "not quite" as meaning "almost," closer to the 


affirmation than to the negation. Gross struggles with the 
fact that Barth continues to write novels. Calling Barth's 
books "Anti-Novels" is only telling half of the story. 

Much of the talk about the death of literature and 
self-destruction in terms of Barth's work has come about in 
response to his essay "The Literature of Exhaustion," which 
he has had to clarify and defend repeatedly since its 
publication, m a 1981 interview Barth tries to explain his 

What was unfortunate about that essay was that I 
never meant to imply— as many readers, one of them 
Jorge Luis Borges, concluded—that I thought 
fiction had all been done with, that there was not 
much more for us latecomers to do except parodv 
our predecessors. That wasn't, and isn't, my 
tnought. ... My own experiments with the oral 
and epistolary traditions should indicate that I 
consider the novel far from dead. And I never 
said the novel was dead in the first place 
(Barth, "An Interview" 5-6) 

Abortion fiction is not a neat metaphor for the 
tendency toward self-reflective destruction or the anti- 
novel. Abortion, as a metaphor, is caught up in the 
difficulty of organization. in explaining "The Exhaustion 
of Literature," Barth comes back to the idea of 
disorderliness : 

I believe that what I was talking about was the 
coming to birth of— it's hard to find a phrase— a 

postmodern fiction." what I was trying to get 
at, I guess, was the thought that we tend to think 
of modern fiction in a disorganized manner, and 
wnen one combines the word "modern" with the word 

fiction," he no longer has a very useful term, 
in a sense I can see at least three waves of 

modern" fiction. . . . (Barth, "An Interview" 6- 


It is convenient that Barth speaks in terms of the birth of 
"postmodern fiction." Today it is still "hard to find a 
phrase" for the fiction being written, because any 
organization of modern fiction (and this may apply to all 
fiction) — the term modern itself is an attempt at such an 
organization — will be swept under in a new wave of fiction. 
In its growing old one can not ignore the irony and 
contradiction of the term modernism . Modernism is already 
used to describe a thing of the past. Systems of 
organization are inevitably conceived and aborted. 

In the introduction to the "Literature of Exhaustion" 
collected in The Frid ay Book . Barth rejects as clearly as 
possible what has become a routine misreading of all his 

It has been frequently reprinted and as frequently 
misread as one more Death of the Novel or Swan- 
Song of Literature piece. It isn't. Rereading it 
now, ... I hear an echo of disruption. . . . 
(FB 64) 

Clearly, for Barth, "disruption" is not an absolute doing- 
away-with the text. 

"Night-Sea Journey" 

"Night-Sea Journey" is the title of the first chapter of 
Barth 's Lost in the Funhouse . it is a first person account 
of a sperm's swimming upstream and his reflections on the 
paradoxes and even the absurdity of that journey. This 
image forms half of the narrative program and the structure 
of Sabbatical. Sailing up the Chesapeake, Fenn has a dream: 


John Arthur Paisley, Doog, Count, me too — we were 
all swimming along together, upstream, like giant 
sperm. With sperm! As sperm! It was late 
evening, or early nighttime: brill ig. We were 
slogging along upstream in the dim light. (S 205) 

The other half of the program and structure is reflected in 

a parallel and feminine version of the dream, which Susan 

has on the same night: 

Mims and I were floating ! No: we were like some 
kind of white water canoers, but not in a canoe. 
More like an inflatable dinghy. It was something 
we were wearing, as if each of us were built into 
an inflatable white-water raft. And we didn't 
just coast along: we were busy steering, 
navigating, radioing back to the . . . what? She 
puts her fingertips to her cheeks. We were these 
big, elastic, floating eggs! (S 205) 11 

Though an insemination takes place, the metaphorics of 

delivery is disrupted. Though the sabbatical cruise is 

"nine months" long (S 162), Susan's pregnancy is not brought 

to term. 

Our dreams, then, began differently but came 
remarkably together: shared memories of the 
paisley scarf. . . . Flowed together would 
describe it better, Susan believes, like . . . 
Ohio and Mississippi at Cairo, East and West Forks 
of Langford Creek at Cacaway Island. (S 205) 

Susan in fact felt "impregnated" by their dream (S 208). 

Fenn and Susan need a narrative medium in which to swim 

and float the story of abortion. The structure and plotline 

of Sabbatica.1 might be thought to accommodate a metaphorics 

These dreams are the foundation of Frank's TV play 
SEX EDUCATION: Play r in The Tidewater Tales . As we will 
see, Peter writes an ending for the play that reflects The 
Tidewater Tales 's orientation to production, an ending 
inappropriate to the abortion oriented structure of 
Sabbatical and the dilemma regarding abortion facing Fenn 
and Susan. 


that would take into account its own disruption without also 
bringing about its self-destruction. "Fenwick and Susan are 
at a Y» (S 236). And in "The Fork," Sabbatical's third 
part, their story culminates at Cacaway Island— "the crotch 
of the Y» (S 350, emphasis mine)— where the East and West 
Forks of Langford Creek run together. The Y or the fork is, 
of course, roughly the configuration of the female 
reproductive system-the uterus and the fallopian tubes. 
But because the Y is also the structure of decision 
making (of analysis and synthesis) , it is also the source of 
Sabbatical's narrative abortion. 

2. Forking. ThP. v 

At the end of The Fork's second chapter, which is 
subtitled "The Fork," Fenn dreams what is essentially a 
summary of the choices that he and Susan face, choices on 
which they base, as we have seen, the success or failure of 
their sabbatical voyage. And he dreams for the summary the 
appropriate structure: 

prompted no doubt by Susan's rowing directions he 
dreams our possible futures as a literal fork in 
the channel, or a series of such forks, each 
presenting us with the options of steering 
astarboard, aport or astern. (S 319) 

Going "right" for Fenn implies accepting his academic 

appointment, "committing his main energies therefrom not to 

further exposure of the CIA but to improvement of his 

academic credentials and to fathering and parenting a child 


by Susan." Going "left" means "living off lectures fees and 
consultations for . . . liberal 'watchdog' organizations 
which have approached him since KUDOVE, . . . pursuing the 
disappearance of Gus and Manfred. . . . There are no 
children down this fork; at the end of it there is no Susan 
either" (S 319) . Going "back" means returning to his life 
before Susan, working against the agency while in its 
employment and even reuniting with his first wife (the dream 
turns into an unrealistic nightmare) . 
And for Susan: 

Going right . . . means Swarthmore, scholarship, 
resignation to childlessness. . . . Going left 
means . . . Baltimore, perhaps with Fenn; taking 
Miriam ^s cue and giving her talents to some inner- 
city high schools . . . perhaps conceiving a 
child, by Fenn or whomever; perhaps adopting one 
or helping poor Mims raise her guiltless bastards. 
(S 320) 

Going back (as with Fenn's third option) is not even a 
consideration; the dream becomes idyllic and absurd: Susan 
takes a position she previously held at Madeira School for 
Girls, marries some handsome "Fred Henry," has children and 
lives in bliss (S 320-21) . 

Susan dreams an apocalyptic conclusion to their story, 
a cosmic abortion: 

Pokey himself is now become our galaxy, now our 
universe, rushing headlong into one of its own 
Black Holes like that legendary bird that flies in 
ever-diminishing circles until it vanishes into 
its own fundament; like Pym's canoe rushing into 
the chasm at the foot of the cataract at the 
southern Pole: a black hole aspirating, with a 
cosmic shlup, us, U.S., all. (S 321) 


The dream is appropriate because the systems by which 
they plan the working out of their problems are the cause of 
their problems. In a sense, they are sucked in and nearly 
destroyed by the assumption that their problems can be 
solved in terms of the structure of the Y. 

Fenn has already made a note that sets up the terms of 

the Y and introduces the initial dilemma with which that 

structure presents them: 

Is a Y a fork or a confluence? Does the 
Chesapeake Channel diverge into York River 
Entrance Channel, or do they converge into the 
Chesapeake Channel? The one inbound, the other 
outbound; or, in tidewater, the one on floods, the 
other on ebbs. Analysis versus synthesis; "male" 
versus "female." Sperm swim up; ova float down. 
(S 137) 

Though fork is used here to mean "a divergence," it is often 

used by the narrators of Sabbatical synonymously with Y; and 

sometimes the meanings of the terms are interchanged so that 

Y means "a divergence." For instance: "Pokey's in a cove, 

but Fenwick and Susan are at a Y"; the narrator means that 

Fenn and Susan have a decision to make — they are "not sure 

where [they'll] be going" (S 236). Fenn begins his dream 

about their possible futures as "a literal fork in the 

channel" but concludes the dream searching "the Y for other 

futures" (S 321, emphasis mine). The meanings of these 

terms vary (even become interchanged) with a change in 

context. Part III, The Fork , should not be read as 

divergent, analytical, or male but rather as incorporating 

both divergence and convergence, analysis and synthesis, 

masculinity and femininity. 


The question is, How does one decide between 
oppositions when the current that moves the narrative life 
of the characters flows in opposite directions? We find 
that despite the search for an answer that demands a choice 
between, Sabbatical (their voyage as well as the text and 
the story) involves both analysis and synthesis, male and 
female, in and out, up and down, divergence and convergence. 

The Analytical rTnbound TTp s wimminrr rHyeraenfr) »m^i q «. 

The first act of analysis is division or 
categorization. In analyzing the structure of Sabbatical, 
for instance, Fenn discovers two aspects of the Y (both of 
these aspects are subdivided in terms of systems of logic, 
directions, and gender), m analyzing Sabbatical, we must 
decide first of all what aspect of the book to consider: 
structure, metaphor, narration, etc. And if we consider the 
structure, on what level is the structure to be examined: 
the structure of the text (sentence structure, the graphic 
organization of titles, the relation of letters within 
words), the structure of the story, etc.? Even if these 
divisions are not made deliberately (I think usually they 
are not— seldom do I say to myself at the beginning of a 
project, I believe I will study the organization of the plot 
in this particular work and thereby will divide my study 
from those that would consider the structure of sentences) , 
the divisions are nevertheless made and in effect amount to 
the making of decisions about how to divide. One agrees if 
only implicitly in every step of an analysis to assume the 


existence and even the appropriateness of a variety of 

categories, of divisions, of textual clefts. 

Allow me the divergence of telling one of Fenn's 

stories as a way of getting us into one of those clefts (a 

divergence that serves mainly to move us away from what may 

seem a theoretical explanation of analysis toward a textual 

one— categories not entirely or necessarily divergent) : 

Fenn went to Spain with his first wife and their son so 

that he could become a capital-W writer; there he wrote his 

first novel-length story— a "story, bogged down in self 

concern, of a story bogged down in self concern" (s 43). 

When it is apparent that the story, as well as their 

sabbatical, as well as their marriage, is a failure, they 

decide to visit Ronda, whose "chief attraction, other than 

picturesque streets and the oldest bullring in Spain, is a 

spectacular sheer gorge— called the Taj o— Spanish for 

'cleft'— which in fact cleaves the town as if Paul Bunyan 

had split it with his ax" (S 35). The Tajo is, of course, 

crucial to this story but also to a textual cleavage. There 

broke out a stupid husband-wife argument about whether they 

should leave, and Orrin got stuck in between: 

Finally Marilyn Marsh ordered Orrin into the car 
Very dirty pool: I had then either to countermand 
her order and oblige Orrin to choose between us 
or spare him that by letting her have her way. I 
did the latter, of course: but doing it so angered 
me that nothing could have kept me from climbing 
down into that gorge. (S 40) 

Though Orrin obeyed his mother's order to get in the 

car, he refused to leave town with her, "arguing reasonably 


that he had obeyed her earlier order not to go with me, and 
that if he was to be solomoned between us (not Orrin 's 
term) , he would try to divide himself equally" (S 42) . If 
to be solomoned is to be divided (or shared) at the complete 
detriment of the thing divided, Orrin, of course, is not 
actually solomoned. (Though he could not endure such 
situations without some, possibly even extensive, emotional 
distress, he grows up to be, as Fenn calls him, a 
"principled, reasonable son" [S 42] and a reasonably happy 
man.) On the other hand, Solomon did not actually divide 
the child but rather threatened to divide it and thereby 
discovered the true mother, who was identified by her 
willingness to give up her child to save its life. Taking 
into account this much of the story, to be solomoned would 
refer to Fenn's willingness to give up Orrin to his mother 
in order to keep him whole, to spare him an impossible and 
self-defeating (perhaps even self-destructive) choice 
between mother and father. The stories are not as clearly 
analogous after the identification of the "true" parent. 
Solomon gives the child, who being an infant cannot speak 
for itself so has no say in the matter, to its parent. (In 
Fenn's analogy Orrin functions both as the child and as 
Solomon. He is both the object of a judgment and the one 
who speaks the judgment: he would try to divide himself 
equally.) Because both Fenn and Marilyn Marsh are Orrin's 
parents, Marilyn Marsh, unlike the lying harlot, the false 
mother of the Solomon story, has some legitimate claim to 


him, though the claim is weakened by her using Orrin to get 
at Fenn, in her placing Orrin between them and risking the 
child's destruction as does the false mother. In one sense 
Orrin does not go to the "true" parent, the one who is more 
deserving because true to the welfare of the child. Not 
only does Orrin get in the car, but he remains in the 
custody of Marilyn Marsh after her and Fenn's divorce. But 
in another sense Fenn establishes a connection to his son 
that they did not previously share. Though Orrin's division 
is not detrimental, it is essential—his being "solomoned" 
defines his relation to the story; and Fenn's story is 
ruined, partly because in its subjection to the logic of 
Solomon, the attempt to find the true story is overturned 
and the story's "true" parent cannot be determined. He 
"thanked [Orrin] for having rescued it [from possible abuse 
by Marilyn Marsh] , and pitched it over the rail without a 
glance" (s 43). Fenn's climbing down into that gorge marks 
the division between him and Marilyn Marsh and thereby 
precipitates the destruction of their marriage. 

Dividing at the detrim ent of t.h P thing di virion 
Fenn also takes himself, literally, into the 
problematics of analysis, into an analytical division of the 
text that leads to the text's disposal, which is marked by 
his throwing the story into the gorge. "[M]y novel wouldn't 
come together. it was supposed to be about the politics of 
political journalism ... but it had taken an 
autobiographical turn and was more and more about a 


frustrated writer" and a strained marriage (£33). Because 

Fenn places himself in a text he makes himself subject to 

the result of a textual analysis. The novel was divided 

between what it was "supposed to be about" (the supposed 

"true" parent) and what it actually was about (the supposed 

"false" parent)— and the division could not be reconciled. 

Neither parent had an exclusive right to the child. The 

author's intention and the outcome of the text are always at 

odds. The story literally contained its own examples of a 

failed author and was its own example of a failed story; it 

judged itself to be a failure because of its being 

irreconcilably divided. Fenn had written an 

autobiographical, self-abortive text—a text "rushing 

headlong into one of its own Black Holes . . . until it 

vanishes into its own fundament" (s 321). We must be 

careful not to read these descriptions of Fenn's book as 

suggesting uneguivocally an absolute self-destruction. In 

Allegories of Reading Paul de Man explains the double bind 

of arriving at the truth about a text that tries, like 

Fenn's first effort, to take itself into account: 

Since any narrative is primarily the allegory of 
its own reading, it is caught in a difficult 
double bind. As long as it treats a theme (the 
discourse of a subject, the vocation of a writer 
the constitution of a consciousness) , it will 
always lead to the confrontation of incompatible 
meanings between which it is necessary but 
impossible to decide in terms of truth and error. 
If one of the readings is declared true, it will 
always be possible to undo it by means of the 
other; if it is decreed false, it will always be 
possible to demonstrate that it states the truth 
of its aberration. (76) 


Strictly speaking, Perm's failed story about a failed story 
cannot be considered a failure because it tells the "truth" 
about its failure. And any assertion about the story's 
success or truth must be just as equivocal. The truth about 
a failed story that is an allegory of failure undoes itself. 

Sabbatical analyzes itself, too. In telling their 
story, Fenn and Susan are trying to decide all along the way 
how their story should be told. They get their story going 
wondering how to begin in "A Dialogue on Diction." Titles 
often begin "The Story of . . . « and underscore the fact 
that what follows is not only a story but about stories. 
Sabbatical includes a chapter on "Minor Characters" and one 
on "Name-Loss in the Myths of Wandering Heroes" (s 236). 
"On Narrative Viewpoint, Selectivity, and Advancement of the 
Action" attempts to describe Sabbat ical using those terms: 

FENWICK: What are our options? I mean 
viewpoxntwise, for our story. Run them by me, 
would you, hon? * ' 

SUSAN: You mean narrative points of view? 
First person. Second person. Third person! (s 

"On Narrative Viewpoint" is written, as are several other 
sections, in the form of notes, which are about Sabbatical . 
The implication is that they are not actually part of the 
story, and in fact they would not normally appear in the 
finished version, but Sabbatical i s about analysis and 
therefore includes its notes, which are the analyses of 


Sabbatical . "Poe Again:" 12 comes back around to our initial 
observation: Fenn notices that their story is shaped like 
the capital letter Y. (With this extremely brief list I 
don't want to simply place myself with many of Barth' s 
critics, such as Gross and Pinsker, who have noticed that 
Barth 's novels are "self-reflexive"~our topic here is the 
effect of analysis . ) 

When I ask my students to write a paper about 
Sabbatical , some of them make what has become a routine 
response: "Barth has used up all the topics—he says 
everything there is to say about Sabbatical." Well, that 
response to Barth is natural because he is a careful and 
critical reader of his own works and because he includes the 
readings in the works themselves even though, like Fenn, he 
claims not to be a scholar of literature or criticism. In 
the headnote to The Lord John Press edition of "The 
Literature of Exhaustion" and "The Literature of 
Replenishment," Barth says of himself, "The gifts of doing 
and explaining are notoriously not the same: An elegant 
artist may sound like a mumbler, a crank, a soulless 
pedant — may be these unadmirable things — when he sets about 
accounting for what he has, perhaps brilliantly, done." 
Though he plays down his critical ability and though he 
leaves to "others more expert" the improvement of his 
"working perspective" (FB 193), his two short essays have 


For titles that are punctuated according to their 
grammatical relation to the sentences they end or begin, the 
punctuation will be retained as part of the title. 


been prolific in bringing about critical discussion and 
debate. Barth says he is "afflicted with the itch to 
understand and explain, to himself and others, why he tells 
the stories he tells the way he tells them." The 
"Literature of Replenishment" illustrates that this 
affliction is accompanied by a wide reading of theory and 
criticism. Nevertheless, the students' response to 
Sabbatical , that Barth uses up all the topics of discussion, 
is based on two interrelated false assumptions (the first of 
which I will put off dealing with until later) : (l) that 
language, specifically the meaning of words, is finite and 
fixed, and (2) that through analysis one can come to the end 
of a text, can be done with it critically. 

I said that Fenn disposes of his first novel-length 
text because it is not entirely gotten rid of. Though he 
pitches it into the gorge, and into the problematics of 
analytical division, it does not actually "vanish into its 
own fundament." The manuscript » litter [ed] up [Ronda's] 
chief tourist attraction" (s 43), left its mark on the cleft 
into which it was thrown. And it leaves its mark on 
Sabbatical because the story of that first novel-length work 
becomes part of the story and the text of Sabbatical . In 
the terms of the Solomon story, the giving up of the text 
has allowed it to "live." "So, Susan says: Not only did the 
Tajo return your hat, it keeps returning the story you threw 
into it" (S 45). There is always, given movement in time 
and the generation of new texts, a new application for the 


story, a different way of looking at it or using it 
critically. Sabbatical marks the movement, in criticism, 
toward understanding literature as the development of the 
literary text as opposed to understanding literature 
according to standards presumed to be fixed, such as the 
originality of the work or the personality of the writer. 
What criticism learned from T. s. Eliot in 1917 is being 
rewritten into the fiction of Barth. in "Tradition and the 
Individual Talent," an essay that is a landmark of the 
development of textual analysis, Eliot says that "what 
happens when a new work of art is created is something that 
happens simultaneously to all the works of art which 
preceded it. . . . [T ]he relations, proportions, values of 
each work of art toward the whole are readjusted .» 
(15). For Eliot, it was essential that the artist recognize 
the presence of the past. The artist will not likely know 
what is to be done "unless he is conscious; not of what is 
dead, but of what is already living" (Eliot 22). Fenn wants 
to see whether telling the Ronda story will bring his hat 
back the way it did at the Choptank River safe-house or 
whether it needs the Choptank River safe-house story, which 
he has not told yet (s 46) . Telling one story forces Fenn 
to tell another in explanation or elucidation, forces him, 
as Eliot says, to readjust the relations, proportions, 
values of the wo rk toward the whole." A similar pressur e 

3 At the forefront of the study of language and 

littlT r t* t0 * aY '"' M ' Bakhtin s P ea * s of ^ Salmis of 
texts as the "problem of the second subject who is 


is placed on Barth in the writing of "The Literature of 
Replenishment" and The Tidewater Tales . To stop writing is 
never to finish the story; "we might remind ourselves," 
Eliot says, "that criticism is as inevitable as breathing" 
(13). in "The Literature of Replenishment" Barth clarifies 
his earlier essay: 

That is not what I meant at all. . . . I agree 
with Borges that literature can never be 
exhausted, if only because no single literary text 
can ever be exhausted— its "meaning" residing as 
it does in its transactions with individual 
readers over time, space and language. (FB 205) 

Barth speaks in terms of the "literary text," but the 
living on of the critical text is marked as well. One of 
these transactions, particularly disturbing to Barth, is 
that between "The Literature of Exhaustion" and Jorge Luis 
Borges, a writer whom Barth admires but who, according to 
Barth, misunderstood the essay. 

So far, we have pointed out two problems with analysis, 
which are not entirely independent of one another, but might 
be summarized separately thus: (1) analysis is always 
subject to invalidation by further analysis; (2) coming to a 
conclusion (an answer or an end) , the presumed purpose of 
the analysis, is impossible because the analysis (whether 

reproducing (for one purpose or another, including for 
research purposes) a text (another's) and creating a framing 
text (one that comments, evaluates objects, and so forth)"; 
one of the difficulties of this reproduction is that both it 
and the reproduced text occur within the "textual chain" of 
a given sphere that is not itself isolated from other 
spheres ("The Problem of the Text" 104-05). 


part of a story or a critical text) generates other subjects 
of analysis. 

Near the beginning of the third part, the presumption 
that Fenn and Susan will be done with their analysis is 
affirmed. There are "large choices that must be made within 
this division of our story, Part III, The Fork , however many 
subdivisions we postpone these choices with" (S 221) . Part 
III is after all the last major section, according to the 
structure they have proposed, so if there is to be an end, a 
decision, it must come soon, within Part III. 

Though Fenn and Susan seem to intuit the fact that the 
system by which they propose to resolve their dilemma tends 
to negate the possibility of resolution, they don't confront 
that contradiction until they are pressed toward separation 
themselves, when they involve the plight of the world in 
their contradictory desires about parenthood. Acid rain, 
the conservative and hawkish new president, Ronald Reagan, 
the build up of nuclear arms, government support of the 
right-wingers in El Salvador, and the pollution of the 
Chesapeake Bay, make bringing a human being into the world a 
difficult decision. But Fenn realizes "that none of the 
above considerations is sufficient reason not to reproduce 
oneself, though all may be invoked as consolation for not 
doing so" (S 330) . He realizes that logical argumentation 
is insufficient in making his decision. Any decision 
arrived at logically, by process of analysis, will always be 


partly a rationalization, a logic attached only after the 
decision has been made. 

For Susan, neither term of the analysis is 
satisfactory: "I don't want to go to Wye Island. I don't 
want to go to Swarthmore. I don't want to do anything" (s 
345). She both wants a child and doesn't want a child, and 
she can deal with neither choice in itself. Fenn has 
••searched] the Y for other futures" (s 321) but has come to 
only two choices (s 333). if her only options are all there 
is, then she might as well give them both up: "I can't take 
it that there's nothing but you and me and soon we'll get 
old and sick and die. The hell with it. . . . [S ]he wishes 
she were dead" (s 345) . 

As in Fenn's dream of their choices in which he and 
Susan search the fork literally, in the boat (S 370) , there 
is a literal forking of the channel in the structure and the 
plot of their story that coincides with the decisions they 
feel they have to make. The Fork is divided into three 
sections, which coincide with the three possible directions 
(right, left, and backwards) one could go having come upon a 
fork and which coincide with the three possible decisions 
they could make given the structure of their decision 
making. m The Fork they encounter an actual fork in the 
channel: in "Gibson to Cacaway: The Fork," Chapter 2, they 
approach the splitting of the channel and the moment of 
their decision; in "Cacaway: Against the Tide," Chapter 3, 
they reach the buoy that marks the fork, and they reach the 


point in their story and in their lives at which a decision 
has to be made: 

By 1500 we're in sight of the go/no-go point: a 
red and black mid-channel buoy at the upper 
approach to Kent Island Narrows. From that buoy, 
which may be left to either port or starboard, 
it's three miles up Chester to snug anchorage in 
Queenstown Creek, or twelve at least down to Key 
Farm. (S 345) 

Susan says simply and suddenly, "we should separate" (S 
345) . Statements like that will always seem sudden whether 
or not they are foreshadowed. In fact, though, Sabbatical 
sets us up for a surprise. The one thing in the story that 
appears to be unshakable is Fenn and Susan's love for one 
another. And in fact it is not their love that is shaken. 
We are led to presume that because they love each other they 
will always be together. We cannot think of them as 
separate. In speaking about Sabbatical it is almost always 
Fenn and Susan. 

Another thing that makes the possibility of their 
separation such a surprise is that until relatively late in 
the story we are not told of their dilemma about whether to 
have children. In Chapter 1 of Part II, the making of 
decisions is brought up but played down: "It was our hope 
and intention that by the end of this same voyage we would 
know better our hearts and minds vis-a-vis several decisions 
which lie ahead" (S 83-84) . To say one "hopes and intends" 
to do a certain thing is to suggest that there is a strong 
possibility that it will not be done. And there is little 
to indicate that not making these (up to that point unnamed) 


decisions will have any devastating effects. Their tone 

throughout that conversation is cheerful. They suggest that 

they could sail forever: 

Micronesia I Polynesia! Hawaii! 

Fenn says perfectly seriously we could, you 
know, Suse. With a bit of refitting. People do 
such things. Work only as we need to. Screw the 
world. Sail around 'till we're old. (S 84) 

Fenwick thinks his reason for preferring Solomons 
Island to a mainland harbor (so that their voyage will not 
yet end, to give them more time to make these decisions) may 
even be "whimsical" (S 85) . It isn't until "Susan's Friday" 
in the second chapter of the third part that the reader 
finds out for certain that Susan is even pregnant and 
"Susan's Friday" is the story of that pregnancy's abortion. 
Because Susan and Fenn put off talking about whether to have 
children (perhaps they know early on that there can be no 
resolution and that the effect of confronting that knowledge 
could be disastrous) , information about the decision and its 
importance to their relationship is deferred. 

Only gradually do their problems take on a seriousness. 

Susan has an outburst, says she hates her position (S 118) , 

and throws up to leeward (S 120) : 

Fenn knows what it betokens: his wife's dark, 
sometimes feeling that our years together . . . 
are themselves a kind of playing: not finally 
serious, as the lives of Susan's childraising, 
house-buying contemporaries might be said to be 
serious. . . . (S 159) 

"We have decisions to make" (S 159) becomes a refrain. But 

even when the issue of childraising is named as part of 

(even possibly the whole) subject of their imminent 


decision-making— "we're at a fork in our channel. We've got 

to settle the guestion of having children" (S 199) — even 

then we are not prepared for their relationship to be made 

dependent on the settling of that guestion. 

Susan's conclusion that they should separate is not 

arrived at narratively so much as logically. Not only does 

an analysis reguire a division in order to proceed, but it 

leads to a division as well. Fenn and Susan had anticipated 

their problems becoming more complex: 

We had allowed for the possibility, if not the 
likelihood, that our sabbatical cruise might 
increase rather than decrease certain 
uncertainties; that is what has come regrettably 
to pass. (S 84) 

Because the division between having children and not having 

children is unsatisfactory, Susan applies the analysis 

elsewhere, to her relationship with Fenn and thereby makes 

their dilemma more complicated. Now, if her statement about 

their separating is only a proposition, they have more 

decisions to make, more options from which to choose. Susan 

can stay with Fenn and have children, she can stay with Fenn 

and not have children, she can separate from Fenn and have 

children with someone else, or she can separate from Fenn 

and not have children. And these are only the options 

relating to childbearing (there are several other issues 

they want to settle, some of which have been cited above, 

though the child-bearing issue is central and would 

influence, possibly even determine, the outcome of the 

others) . 


Suffice it to say again that analysis does not work for 
Fenn and Susan as a narrative program because the terms of 
the division with which the analysis proceeds are 
inappropriate and because analysis cannot bring them to a 
conclusion, which their story demands. 

The Synthetic fOutb o und Downswimmina Convergent) "Female" 

Of our journey, Susan says I sure liked going 
down better than coming up. 

The female point of view. Fenwick sets forth 
his notebook-notion about forks and confluences, 
analysis and synthesis, sperm and ova. (S 169) 

One of the problems with analysis is also (but in reverse) 

the problem with syntheses. Rather than calling for a 

division, as analysis does, synthesis begins with division. 

In order for a synthesis to take place, a division has to be 

present already. The parent of synthesis is division in 

two. Like the terms of an analysis, the terms of a 

synthesis are subject to invalidation. 

Sue's appreciative [of Fenn's setting forth his 
notebook-notion] — but promptly observes that 
Fenn's note is itself synthetic, not analytical. 
I'm not all male, he reminds her, nor you all 
female. (S 169) 

One thing synthetic about Fenn's note is that it is made in 

the context of groups of ideas about the notebook: "Fenn 

notes that his notes on our story, to which the notebook is 

principally devoted, have nearly all to do with either such 

general considerations as the foregoing, or bits of 

narrative to be incorporated . . . , or images (e.g. Is a Y a 

fork or a confluence? . . .)" (s 137). Fenn's bringing 

various notes together under general headings is, in 


essence, a synthesis. Susan's polemical attack on the 
system is clear. She claims that Fenn's division is 
invalid, and she uses Fenn as the example. Since he is a 
man, given his system of categorization, his note should be 
analytical. Since his note is synthetic, his categorizing 
the "male" with the analytical is problematic. We should 
also notice that Susan's attack is at least partly 
analytical (that is, according to Fenn, at least partly 
"male") —she tests the terms of the division against a 
specific example—and, therefore, that she does not fit into 
Fenn's system of synthesis and analysis either. 

If the terms of the proposed synthesis are Male and 
Female or Z£nn and Susan, for the synthesis to be subject to 
a rigorous analysis these categories must be distinct. 
Fenn's response that he is only partly male and Susan only 
partly female would make the product of the synthesis 
difficult to discern, it is precisely this difficulty that 
eliminates any simple analysis relying on the separation of 
the terms, in this case, the separation of the sexes. We 
find, in both the male and the female, syntheses having 
already taken place. 

The narrators try to establish the difference between 
Fenn and Susan throughout the book. Near the beginning 
Susan is identified as a teacher (S 12); apparently she is 
the one who star-spangles Sabbatical with footnotes (one 
note begins in self-mockery, "Dr. Seckler is late with this 
note, drawn from her dissertation" [S 187]); Fenn, the 


writer of a CIA expose (S 14), aspires to be a capital-W 
writer of fiction— he is the unrefined adventurer. Susan 
reads quickly and widely; Fenn slowly and carefully. Susan 
is part "gypsy" and part Jewish, grows up around her 
mother's "bar-restaurant in the salty, boozy Fells Point 
neighborhood of Baltimore" (S 54); Fenn, the son of old 
tidewater parents, grows up on Key Farm, Wye Island, 
Virginia, in the slow-paced marshland. 

"Your 19th is Susan's century, Your 18th Fenn's," the 
first subdivision of Chapter 1 of Part III, is devoted to 
delineating the characteristics of Fenn and Susan but 
collapses on itself by confusing the terms of the 
characterization. Susan, more and more upset, takes on her 
role as she describes it: 

Your irrational romantic, overreaching Nineteenth 
is my fucking century, and Crazy Edgar is my alma 
pater, Jewish or not. Nervous. Unstable. 

Brilliant, Fenwick hastens to add. 
Energetic. Intuitive. 

Susan's eyes are wet again. Fatherless. 
Childless. Self -tormented. Half hysterical. And 
doomed to an early, unquiet grave. (S 215) 

Fenn, trying to calm Susan down, plays his role as he 
describes it: 

Fenwick' s Key was your Eighteenth century man: 
enlightened, rational, cool, optimistic, 
unecstatic, self controlled. Appollonian to Sue's 
Dionysiac Mister Poe, Jack of sundry trades. . . . 
(S 216) 

There seems to be a discrepancy between the earlier 
characterization and this in the third part, which 
foreshadows the more extensive breaking down of categories. 


Susan is characterized initially as the "logical" scholar 
who puts things in order (S 23), making sure that the 
references are clear and that the appropriate citations are 
made. But as their story nears its critical point, at which 
the coming together of Fenn and Susan is brought seriously 
into question, she becomes the "irrational romantic," 
unstable, even hysterical. 

Even then, in the grip of her self -torment, she keeps 
enough of her cool to question Fenn's placement of himself: 

Your view of the Eighteenth century is romantic, 
in your wife's opinion. Your view of rationalism 
is romantic. (S 216) 

What she means is that we don't know what Francis Scott Key 
was actually like: "Not impossibly he was as demon-driven as 
Poe, or as his namesake, F. Scott Fitz." (s 216). Fenn is 
attaching his idea of the 18th century, perhaps his idea of 
himself, to his namesake for the sake of the category, so 
that he can make his point about the difference between him 
and his wife. He softens his position: "Well: her husband's 
not anti -romantic, any more than he's anti-her. Says he's 
got some Manfred in him; even a touch of Poe. And a little 
Sue Seckler, thank God" (S 216) . Though he hedges on the 
stability of his categories, he takes them a step further in 
describing their synthesis, which is the joining of him and 
Susan: "Well, reader: hence, the significance of our sturdy 
craft's name: a union of contraries prevailing harmoniously 
indeed but sometimes tense, like the physics of Pokev 
himself" (s 217) . 


Two things: that a union of "contraries" has taken 
place is questionable because the terms of the union are 
indistinct, the "contrariness" of the terms is brought into 
doubt; assuming that we can call Fenn and Susan's 
relationship a "union," whether it will prevail is brought 
into doubt by Susan's suggestion that they split. 

In working out the relation between Fenn and Susan, we 
have to deal with the chauvinistic character of the 
categories in Fenn's note about the difference between the 
synthetic and the analytical, because it begins the second 
phase of this argument: in the synthetic moment the prior 
duality reaffirms itself. 

Fenn's categories tend to align the masculine and the 
feminine with traditional stereotypes. The male is aligned 
with the analytical, and therefore given the position of 
power: the male is the maker of decisions. His movement is 
positive and productive, "upward" and "forward." He moves 
inward and introspect ively. The Feminine is aligned with 
the synthetic, the position of conciliation. Her movement 
is generally negative, downward and backward. She is 
outward, predisposed to excess and extravagance. Fenn bases 
his categories, for the most part, on the movements of the 
sperm and the ovum. But even the movements of the sperm and 
ovum, by definition the masculine and the feminine, are 
subject to a chauvinistic interpretation. Fenn calls them 
swimmers and floaters, names that reflect the traditional 
perception of men as active and woman as passive. in The 


Tidewater Tales , it will be noted that there is medical 
evidence suggesting that even the ova are "aggressive." To 
Fenn's credit, he never claims that the attributes he calls 
male and female are the exclusive domain of men or women. 
Though he retains the terms male and female as adjectives, 
he puts them in quotation marks (S 137) . The quotation 
marks become an indication of the categories, the 
prejudices, that remain when one tries to do away with them 
by bringing the terms of the categories together. The 
remainder is an essential element of the synthetic 
structure . 

One way we can get at this idea of the remainder is 
through Charles Harris, one of Barth's principal critics. 
Harris's book on John Barth, Passionate Virtuosi t Y r 
represents almost all of Barth's critics in that he sees 
"unity as the central problem of . . . Barth's fiction" 
(ix) . The fact that unity could be considered a "problem" 
implies a system of values on which Harris builds a method 
of analysis that contains problems of its own. Harris means 
that Barth's fiction contains in one way or another, as 
themes, structures, characters, etc., oppositions; and these 
oppositions need to be unified. The End of the Road is an 
"articulation of absolutes" which takes place as a 
"nondualistic conjunction of opposites, ... a 
transcendence, a mystical view of the whole" (Harris 48) . 
The Sot-Weed Factor is an exploration of "experience and 
reality." LETTERS "strives for a middle ground between 


apparent oppositions, thereby achieving a postmodern 
synthesis" (Harris 153) . 

The problem is determining how this anticipated unity 
is to be achieved. The impulse in Barth, particularly in 
Sabbatical . Harris correctly identifies as "nondualistic. " 
Barth wants to create a way beyond the dilemma, the double 
bind, faced in The Fork , a term that will not simply 
reinscribe duality. The problem is how one is to 
"transcend" the dualistic division of the universe and 
thereby achieve a "nondualistic conjunction." The problem 
is that as soon as we think of unity or disunity as a 
"problem," duality has already been reinscribed. The 
opposition between unity and duality stands as a testament 
to opposition as the principle determinant of the universe. 

Harris reads Giles Goat-Boy as a "Synthesis Attained" 
(that is the subtitle of his chapter on Giles Goat-Boy ) . 
According to Harris, the story contains a "dialectical 
structure": it describes a thesis, an antithesis, and a 
synthesis. The synthesis "retains the elements of the prior 
phases, but in an altered or elevated state — aufqehoben " 
(Harris 88). According to Harris, the dialectic is Hegel's. 
Since it is likely that Hegel's dialectic and his idea 
of synthesis will be applied to Sabbatical by its critics 
(Harris's book stops with LETTERS) , we should look at the 
nature of synthesis and Hegel's use of it to see how 
Harris's comments hold up under the pressure of an extensive 
study of Hegel such as Jacques Derrida's Glas . 


Glas's Hegel column concerns, largely, Hegel's idea of 

Sittlichkeit, the synthesis between right (Recht) and 

morality (Moral it at! . Within Sittlichkeit . another 

syllogism is developed (its terms: the family, civil or 

bourgeois society, and the state or the constitution of the 

state) . And within the family, another syllogism: marriage, 

the family property, the education of the children (Derrida, 

Glas 4, 14). Understanding the connection of these things 

will give us an idea of the Hegelian synthesis. 

Love is an essential predicate of the concept 
family, that is of an essential moment of 
Sittlichkeit . (Derrida, Glas 10) 

Love, then, can be thought of as the connection itself, the 

thing that "plays in the gap" (Derrida, Glas 18), like 

Sittlichkeit. in the synthetic moment. 

"Love means in general terms the consciousness of 
my unity with another, so that I am not in selfish 
isolation, but win my self-consciousness as the 
renunciation of [Aufgebung, the dispossession of] 
my being-for-self and through knowing myself 
(Mich-Wissen) as the unity of myself with another 
and of the other with me." (Derrida, Glas 17, a 
quotation of Hegel's Grundlinien der Philosophie 
des Rechts ) 

However, love is also the "unity of [the family's] self 

destruction" (Derrida, Glas 14) . Love produces and resolves 

the familial contradiction. A member of the family wants 

not to be independent but counts for something in love only 

in terms "fixed by what the other finds" in him — " I count 

for something fo r the other " (Derrida, Glas 18). The family 

includes, as its synthetic moment, the education of the 

child, which is "the dissolution of the family" (Derrida, 


Glas 19). in the child the parents recognize themselves as 
one. "They 'produce' thus 'their own death'" such that "the 
death of the parents forms the child's consciousness," which 
is the education of the child (Derrida, Glas 132) . Love is 
thus the movement of an Aufhebuna : the moment of unity is 
also the moment of dissolution. As in the Aufhebuna of 
sexual desire, the moment of gratification (of the 
"attainment" of unity) is the moment of the loss of desire 
(of a declaration of independence) . 

To say that a synthesis has been "attained" might 
mislead one into thinking that the dialectic has come to an 
end in which a positive achievement has been established and 
beyond which one cannot go. But given the Aufhebuna in 
Hegel's system, the achievement is always only partly 
positive. And in a speculative dialectics, such as Hegel's, 
the synthesis will include another system in which a 
synthesis is "relieved" (that is one of the not quite 
sufficient translations of Aufhebuna ^ again. 

Syllogism is a trinary system — "Each of the three 
moments of the three moments itself includes three 
syllogistic moments" (Derrida, Glas 20) —but the Aufhebuna 
anchors it in the dual. Synthesis, the activity of 
syllogism, always represents the coming together of 
oppositions, of two aspects, two things, two paths. There 
is "[n]o marriage that is not decided by the parental 
instance, whatever the form of its intervention" (Derrida, 
Glas 194). The parental instance of is the 


coming together of right and morality. Regardless of the 

effect of the marriage, whether we are talking about 

Sittlichkeit or a synthesis of another sort, the 

intervention remains. 

Philosophy, in Hegel's system, is the synthesis of art 

and religion, the syllogism within the third or synthetic 

moment of the most encompassing division, that between 

objective spirit and subjective spirit: 

in absolute religion, division in two ( Entzweiuna ) 
is not vet absolutely overcome by reconciliation. 
An opposition ( Entqeqensetzunq ) stays, determines 
itself as an anticipatory representation 
( Vorstellunq ) . (Derrida, Glas 219) 

Philosophy can only be anticipated; it always remains the 

not-yet of the absolute spirit. Hegel proposes a dialectic 

rather than a tautological relation between philosophy and 

religion. "Philosophy is the truth (the philosophy) of 

religion, and religion represents already (the name) (of) 

philosophy." Thus, according to Hegel, "'Philosophy is only 

explicating itself when it explicates religion, and when it 

explicates itself it is explicating religion.'" In 

Derrida 's terms, "Absolute religion is not yet what it is 

already. . . . Absolute religion ... is already what it 

is not yet. . . . The unity of the object and the subject 

does not yet accomplish itself presently, actually; the 

reconciliation between the subject and the object ... is 

left waiting" (Derrida, Glas 218, 219-20). What remains is 

division in two. 


The structure of Derrida's text echoes that remainder. 
"Before attempting an active interpretation," says Derrida, 
"verily a critical displacement (supposing that is 
rigorously possible) , we must yet patiently decipher this 
difficult and obscure text [ Elements of the Philosophy nf 
Right]" (Derrida, Glas 5). "To know what love is . . . one 
needs to know what feeling is. But that will truly not be 
known before knowing what love is, that is, what the family 
is" (Derrida, Glas 14), or, we might say, what Sittlichkeii- 
is. This pre-text becomes before we know it (that is, from 
the start) "an active interpretation." Another way of 
putting it, which is to say the same thing, though not 
exactly the same thing, is that all of Glas is a critical 
displacement, a patient deciphering, of Hegel. 

Glas is organized in two columns, the left about Hegel, 
the right Genet. Already I have slipped backward because I 
have not yet gotten to their connection. We can see from 
the start their crossing over. The displacement of Hegel is 
the replacement of Genet and vice versa. Both columns 
anticipate the other and, together, anticipate their 
connection. But what remains, what is left standing, are 
the two columns. 

In Sabbatical, the synthetic reinscription of duality 
is marked in the love declared by Fenn and Susan. I have 
said that we are led to presume that because Fenn and Susan 
love each other they will always be together. Sabbatical 
is, after all, "A Romance" (the term is part of Sabbatical 's 


title) . Of course, we understand Romance to be used partly 
as a critical term. Fenn and Susan have used it to describe 
the temperament of 19th-century American literature, to set 
it against (and this is how it is usually used) the 
rationalism of the 18th century or the realism of the 19th 
and 20th centuries. Though Susan has called theirs a "love- 
and-adventure story"— love and adventure might be seen as 
elements of the Romance— Fenn wants their story to be 
something else: "I'm not being sentimental. ... We don't 
want some tacky roman a clef or half-assed autobiographical 
romance" (S 356). in Sabbatical love becomes more than what 
the story is about. As a "Romance" it is also but more than 
a "love story," more than a story about the love between two 
people, in Sabbatical, love is the subject of a critical 
inquiry. Sabbatical is about the function of love in a 
relationship, about love's betweenness : that is, about love 
as the synthetic moment. 

As Fenn tells the story of "A Dialogue on Diction" he 
sprinkles it with "dirty" language as is his want, but Susan 
wants to establish the terms by which their "love story" 
will be told: 

And all these effing thises and effing thats: I 
won't have it, Fenn. This is our story, that I 
love; it's our love-and-adventure story, that 
ought to speak and sing and soar and make us laugh 
and cry and catch our breaths et cetera, and 
you're X-rating it before we even get to the sexv 
parts. (S 13) 

Though Hegel's system doesn't directly involve love as an 
element in story telling, it is useful in exploring the 


relation between Fenn and Susan and their idea of 
synthesis. 14 For Fenn (if not yet by the end of the book 
for Susan) the writing of their story and their loving are 
identical twins: "The doing and the telling, our writing and 
our loving— they're twins. That's our story" (s 365). 
Fenn's softening to "effing" the word to which Susan finds 
exception is his giving over who he is, the meaning of 
Fennwick Tumor , in the telling of the story of his love for 
her. As a narrator, who he is is defined by his telling the 
story. By taking on Susan's terms in making this their 
"love story," in effect declaring his love for her, he 
renounces (in Hegel's terms) his being- for-self. Fenn takes 
on meaning fixed by the other and thereby reinscribes their 
independence . 

Much of Sabbatical involves this kind of bargaining for 
terms by which the love story should be told: which 

Though in fact Hegel always opposes narration to the 
concept, in the reconstitution of a Hegelian process he 
incites us, according to Derrida, "to a kind of conceptual 
narration" (Glas 15). Hegel's being a speculative 
dialectics, the completion of the dialectical process can 
only occur at the end of history. it is, therefore, easier 
to explain Hegel in the future tense. The future tense 
though, is a "grammatical ruse of reason" ( Glas 5) , because 
Hegel s dialectic is a circular system that requires us to 
presume the fulfillment of the synthesis it proposes, so 
that the appropriate tense is not the simple future but the 
future perfect, the future anterior, which brings into 
dialectical relation the future and the past. "When Heqel 
is explained," says Derrida, "it is always in a seminar and 
in telling students: the history of the concept, the concept 
of history. m explaining Hegel, in other words, we are 
lead to narrate, to consider a series of events in time, to 
write a history. Our explanation turns inevitably toward 


characters are too minor to be part of the story, what type 
of narration, what organization, what footnotes, etc. 

Because both Fenn and Susan are twins, Fenn says, they 
might use "narcissism as the image of [their] love for 
another" (S 332). By loving themselves in their 
independence, they would establish a relation to someone 
other, because they would love themselves as their twin. 
And regardless of their twinship, the reinscription of 
independence establishes one of the functions of love, the 
double movement of love as the synthetic moment. 

Fenn and Susan try to join in the telling of Sabbatical 
by coupling the point of view. On the first reading of the 
beginning of Sabbatical, one can't decide who is telling the 
story. That confusion is due mostly to there being two 
usually distinct points of view that form one point of view 
doubled— the third person singular and the first person 
plural: "Fenn would be happy to give it another go; we have 
fiddled with our tale through this whole sabbatical voyage" 
(S 9, emphasis mine). Because quotations aren't 
distinguished with quotation marks from the exposition of 
the story by the narrator, it is not easy, at first, to tell 
when someone is speaking, so it might seem that the narrator 
was the first person singular as well: 

Oh, Fenn, she groans, I've got us lost. (s 21) 
The only time we have the first person singular is in the 
quotation of someone speaking. The third person is used for 
the narrators' reference to themselves, individually as 


characters, the first person plural for the narrators' 
reference to themselves as a couple or as the narrator 

In Sabbatical the coupled point of view can't hold up. 
Though they have nicknamed their story "Our Story" and even 
devote several subdivisions to calling it that— "Our Story" 
(S 71-73), "Our Story!" (S 352-56), "To Our Story" (s 362- 
64), and though Susan entertains the notion early on, calls 
it "our love-and-adventure story" (emphasis mine) , after her 
abortion she has had enough, she is unwilling to let the 
synthesis stand without scrutiny: 

What about our story, Suse? 

What about it. 

I'm going to write it; that's what about it. 
Joking aside, we're going to write it. 

Susan looks away. Bully for us. Fenwick 
absorbs the rebuff. I'm not belittling you, Sue 
says seriously. You'll write something fine, and 
that'll be enough for you, because you had all the 
other things in your life. (S 334) 

Fenn is more right when he slips and says that he will write 
it. He will be the book's principal author. Though Susan 
is interested in, even has a stake in, their story , it will 
be Fenn who writes it down, it will be the book that makes 
Fenn a writer of fiction. Fenn, not Susan, aspires to be 
the author of a novel (s 273-74) . 

In fact, Susan mainly functions editorially. When Fenn 
names the terms and defines the story— "The doing and the 
telling, our writing and our loving— they're twins. That's 
our story," Susan only acquiesces: "If that's going to be 
our story, then let's begin it at the end and end at the 


beginning ...»(£ 365). "if that's going to be our 
story": Susan is not satisfied with the conclusion proposed, 
but she will allow it to stand if she can have a hand in 
controlling the structure of the conclusion. But Fenn has 
already planned the structure she describes. Susan wonders 
only thirteen pages earlier, "Where does Cacaway fit in?" 
And Fenn gives her the conclusion before she describes it: 
"At the beginning and the end" (s 352). Even Susan's 
function as editor is somewhat circumscribed by Fenn's 
already having worked out the story part of the way. Though 
Fenn says, "It's our power and our voice, and what it's for 
is our story" (s 351) , he says it in the subdivision called 
"She's Listening" (S 325-52). That irony is symptomatic of 
the impossibility of a "synthesis attained," indicative of 
the division between listener and teller, reader and writer, 
the duality always reinscribed in the twins and into the 
synthetic moment. 

The Fourth Choic.P. 

It is essential that we keep in mind that we are 
talking about the way synthesis functions in language. To 
talk about the relation between Fenn and Susan is to talk 
about the working out of Sabbatical : 

Fenn is astonished almost as much by Susan's 
estimation of his abilities—and the revelation 
that she has examined, neither at his initiation 
nor against his prohibition, not only his 
notebooks but his sundry past literary efforts! — 
as by her incredible proposal that we separate. 
Unthinkable just now either to proceed to Wye I. 
or not to proceed! We can neither go forward nor 
go back: forward whither? Back where? (S 347) 


Where Fenn is in his career as a writer (in relation to his 

"sundry past literary efforts") , that is, in his making of 

notes for the present work Sabbatical, is relative to the 

state of Fenn and Susan's relationship. 

In the section called "We Have Reached That Red and 

Black Buoy" in which the above statement is made, Fenn and 

Susan "circle in midchannel" (s 347) . Both their 

relationship and their story are stuck. Solution by further 

analytical division is unsatisfactory and by synthesis 

impossible to attain. In trying to get them going, to bring 

them to some satisfactory conclusion, Fenn cannot completely 

rid the story of the cause of the problem, of the 

predisposition to synthesis and analysis. He proposes a 

fourth choice within the old structure: 

Fenn explains that at a place where three roads 
meet, there are four choices. Your Y has three 
legs, but four possibilities. (S 351) 

They "decide" only to remain . We must use the term 

tentatively because they "decide" only by default. Given 

their perspective, the restrictions and the remainder of 

analysis and synthesis, they have no other choice. 

To the crotch of the Y, Fenn says. The hub of the 
wheel. The place where three roads meet. (S 350) 

Physically, literally, "staying there," when Fenn has this 

revelation, means staying at Cacaway. But he doesn't mean 

it completely literally. Susan wants the meaning of the 

story, the conclusion, anchored: "What does 'staying right 

here' mean, anyhow? Does she go to Swarthmore and he to 

Delaware? Does he want her to stay on at Washington College 


while he writes this famous story?" (s 358). For Fenn, 
though, their "working it out" has become a matter of 

He doesn't know about that, what she just asked 
and the reason he doesn't know is that it doesn't 
matter in the same way anymore. That's all clear 
to him now, too: We didn't make the decisions we'd 
hoped to make on this sabbatical sail because the 
questions we were trying to decide were the wrong 
ones. No, excuse him: they're the right 
questions, but we had the wrong handle on them, (s 

Sabbatical has been about (is about) all sorts of Y's, 
Wye's, and Why's. And they all, in some way or another, 
stand for each other. 

w Y e T - ( the Place Fenn is from) is epigrammatic for 
"Why me?" The search for a cause (the relation between 
cause and effect) , which is implied by that question as well 
as by the place name itself, which marks Fenn's "place of 
origin," is inappropriate. But, as Fenn suggests, that 
inappropriateness does not do away with the question— no 
more than Fenn can do away with the organization, the 
structure, of a story already told. The key is perspective, 
not what the question is, but how you look at it, what you 
expect it to do. If the Y is supposed to bring you to an 
end or an answer, then it will fail. 

Fenn swears she'll understand what he means as 
soon as he does. it is not a matter of answers, 
or even a philosophical position: just a 
perspective. (S 3 60) 

If Fenn is right that it is not a matter of answers, then 

understanding is not quite the right word either. If he has 

found a new perspective, a new way of looking at their story 


that would negate the need for coming to a conclusion, he 
has not yet found a way to explain it to Susan, or, if 
explanation isn't the right word, to lead Susan to his point 
of view: 

What's more— he hopes Susan can take this the way 
he means it; he knows what the past few days and 
weeks have been for her— this story, our story 
it's our house and our child. ... (S 357) 

Because Fenn has made it clear that he wants to get past 
their old perspective, to imagine their story as controlled 
by neither analysis nor synthesis, we have to conclude that 
he does not propose simply another synthesis in saying "our 
story is our child." it may be that what Fenn is trying to 
articulate is beyond the capacity of language in general. 
It is definitely beyond the systems of discourse established 
by Fenn and Susan in Sabbatical. Fenn wants to dispose of 
or leave behind them a discourse that has brought them to a 
standstill, to leave behind both aspects of the Y, without 
bringing forward the remainder left over by the text's 
disposal, without bringing forward remnants of the text that 
has brought him to this new perspective. 

Susan's grieving about her abortion is essentially her 
dissatisfaction with the way their story ends, with the 
problem of articulating a story that would place them 
outside the Y. 

Though Fenn wants not to see their story in terms of a 
synthesis, "our story is our child" looks synthetic, and 
Susan treats it that way: 


Well, my friend, that's a two-edged trope you're 
playing with there. Stories can abort, too. (s 

357) v — 

Fenn's fourth choice places Sabbatical within the Y. The 
terms themselves, the possibility of "understanding" the new 
perspective and, principally, the connection between "story" 
and "child," by which Fenn describes the fourth choice are 
the remainder of an aborted text. 


Let this, then, be our departure (but neither our 
origin, source, nor simply our example) : 

The presumed subject of the sentence might always 
say, through using the "supplement," more, less 
or something other than what [the writer] would ' 
mean. This question [of the usage of the word 
"supplement"] is therefore not only of [the] 
writing but also of our reading. . . . [T]he 
reading must always aim at a certain relationship 
imperceived by the writer, between what he 
commands and what he does not command of the 
patterns of the language that he uses. This 
relationship is not a certain quantitative 
distribution of shadow and light, of weakness or 
of force, but a signifying structure that critical 
reading should produce . 

Yet if reading must not be content with 
doubling the text, it cannot legitimately 
transgress the text toward something other than 
it, toward a referent (a reality that is 
metaphysical, historical, psychobiographical, 
etc.) or toward a signified outside the text whose 
content could take place, could have taken place 
outside of language, that is to say ... of 
writing in general. (Derrida, Of Gramma to 1 nrrv 
157-58) ajL 

Thus, in terms of a certain writer and a certain text (we 
will leave them out of sight for now for reasons that will 
be made clear) , Derrida offers a justification for his 
principles of reading. We must take a special precaution in 
readin< ? The Tidewater Tales, as we will, by allowing Derrida 
to be our departure, by allowing his idea of the supplement 



to supplement Barth's text, because already a supplementary 
reading is at play. My quotation, which illustrates a 
reading, of Of Grammatol ogy, and especially my alterations 
of the text, indicate the scission and the connection 
between writing and reading. In the first part of the 
quotation I have tried to generalize Derrida's statement by 
removing them from the context of the specific writer in 
question, by leaving out references to Rousseau. The change 
is not entirely vitiated by pointing out that in the 
following paragraphs Derrida broadens the question of 
reading Rousseau to reading and writing "in general"; 
Rousseau is very much a part of Derrida's idea of the 
supplement. Divorcing the subject from the context or 
example is always problematic, but this separation is 
particularly disturbing because the supplement points out 
the adhesion of the text to the subject and of the subject 
to the example. Even without the brackets, which point out 
in my quotation the addition as well as the omission of 
certain relevant information, the supplement is integrated 
into the text and perhaps made more dangerous, for without 
the appearance of signs that speak directly to us about the 
supplementarity of the text at hand, these sort of 
precautions would not be taken. Let us not mislead 
ourselves though: taking precautions can give us no absolute 
assurances about the effect of the supplement on the text 
that is read, because the supplement is always at play. The 
presumed subject will always say more, less, or other than 


what the writer would mean, which is to say that reading 
will necessarily entail being misled if one reads for or 
toward a metaphysical, historical, or psychobiographical 

We should point out deliberately another precaution 
(one that is also, for other reasons, Derrida's) : "To 
produce this signifying structure obviously cannot consist 
of reproducing" (Of Grammatology 158). Reading never simply 
doubles the text; it is not a production that is, in any 
absolute sense, a repetition. in reading The Tidewater- 
Tales, the term reproduction, though it is seldom 
encountered, will bring itself forward because of the 
metaphors to which the supplement is bound in that text; 
because, for example, conception and delivery are marked in 
The Tidewater Tales as aspects of writing and narration, and 
therefore of reading, we have to argue the supplementarity 
of reading within the context of these metaphors. There is 
no contradiction in the inevitable appearance of this term. 
Reproduction (Peter and Katherine almost always break it 
down into more strategic units: insemination, conception, 
delivery, etc.) is not within The Tidewater Tales simply the 
doubling of the parents or the doubling of commentary on the 
work that is therefore produced. 

It would be tempting to speak of the metaphor as a 
supplement of the idea of supplementarity and therefore to 
speak of the idea, the concept, as the "parent text," but 
this metaphorization may imply that the idea is somehow 


outside the movement of the supplement when the supplement 
denies a priori that a "parent text" can be the origin and 
denies, as Derrida says, "the tn.nn.Hi assnran^ fch^ le- 
aver the tPxt toward its presn^H int ent . in fh. H^^^ n 
of the pure signified " ( Of Gram^i-m ngy 159) . It is 
dangerous to try to offer an example of supplementary 
because the system on which the offer is based (the 
dichotomy of subject/example or form/content) is disrupted 
by the effect of the supplement, the supposed "subject." An 
example cannot be made without adding to, omitting from, or 
saying something other than what the subject would say of 
itself. What the subject would say is of course always a 
supposition, because what it would say is never said. For 
this reason, we are not to think of Derrida as our origin 
or, in simplistic terms, our source. He is rather our 
departure, a leaving and a leaving off, a parting, a 
separation and a boundary among other separations and 
boundaries, within the text . 

A supposition, a "metaphor," the production of a 

But if stories were children, their readers 
wouldn't be their children; they'd be one of their 
parents, and the author the other. (TT 410) 

Not the "parent text" but the parent ggadSE . To be one of 

the parents of the story, the reader must be made part of a 

system of production; reading is a production because the 

text comes about as the result of the tension between what 

the writer commands and what fcfeg writer rinog not command of 


the language used . The reader helps to produce what is out 
of the writer's hands, which is why Derrida speaks of a 
writin g that is vet reading . 

When he discovered that his sailboat leaked (not 
incidentally the boat is named Story) , Peter did not 
hesitate to lay on the epoxy and the fiberglass. Peter 
thinks that the builders of the boat would have been 
offended "but it wasn't their boat any longer. ... p. 
Sagamore is not a romantic: neither about origins nor about 
wooden sailboats nor about fiction" (TT 111) . On the other 
hand Peter went to great lengths not to use the engine that 
came with the boat (he turned it on but left it in neutral 
in channels that required its use), though "if there'd been 
a moment's danger to anyone else or any real threat to 
himself or the boat, he'd have said screw this and shifted 
into gear . . . " (TT 111). Derrida points out that without 
recognizing the moment of doubling commentary which requires 
"all the instruments of traditional criticism . . . critical 
production would risk developing in any direction at all and 
authorize itself to say almost anything" ( Of Grammatology 
158) . Peter authorizes himself to modernize Story (which is 
also to say the_story) , though he is not its "author" — 
neither the builder of the boat nor the one who signs The 
Tidewater Tales. At the same time, he understands the value 
and the necessity of recognizing and respecting Story 's 


Peter makes his statement about the parent reader 
within the context of his and Katherine's discovering who 
wrote the manuscript SEX EDUCATION: piav . which had floated 
into their story in two installments wrapped in plastic 
Baggies and set adrift in Alert-and-Locate flare canisters. 
To Frank, Katherine says simply, "You wrote that SEX 
EDUCATION play!" (TT 409). The response to Katherine's 
assertion is not as simple. No one says directly that, yes, 
Frank wrote the play. Lee smiles at Frank and Peter is 
startled, but the supplement has not been taken into 
account. Katherine is not entirely correct if she means 
that the command of the text remains with the supposed 
"author. " 

We have pointed out elsewhere that Barth's books read 
themselves, so to speak, from within. The Tidewater Tales 
makes many, arguably a continuous flow of, comments about 
itself — its organization, its style, etc. We should notice, 
though, that it also develops allegories of its being 
read. 15 The Tide water Tales talks about what it means for 
someone to read The Tidewater Tales , what effects such a 
reading have on the possibility of isolating an author. In 
other words, it talks about a critical production of the 
work in the reading. I emphasize that these allegories take 
place within The Tidewater Tales because they are not 

For a seminal discussion of the relation between 
allegory and reading, especially as it relates to the 
breakdown of the dichotomy between the figurative and the 
literal, we should look to de Man's Allegories of Reading . 


allegories of readings that occur outside the text. To 
understand reading as production, which is take the 
supplement into consideration, is to recognize that " there 
is nothing outside of the tevt " (Derrida, Of Gramma tol ngy 
158). Peter and Katherine 's reading the manuscript SEX 
EDUCATION: Plav functions as one such allegory. We are 
concerned here not simply with the manuscript, which is a 
reflection of and a commentary (essentially a "doubling 
commentary") on The Tidewater Tales r but also with what 
Peter and Katherine have to say about opening and reading 
the manuscript, 

which by the unlikeliest of hazards swam into the 
Ken of dwarf -laden Story at a peculiarly volatile, 
suspended moment in our own tidewater tale, and in 
a manner of speaking catalyzed, goosed — Might as 
well say inseminated, says Peter — inseminated our 
outboard muse, though what she will deliver 
remains to be seen. (TT 421) 

Peter and Katherine read SEX EDUCATION: Play , as do we in 

addition to them, a text that is in The Tidewater Tales , and 

thereby inseminate their "own tidewater tale," remarked over 

and again to be The Tidewater Tales . Reading The Tidewater 

Tales inseminates The Tidewater Tales . " There is no 

outside-text" (Derrida, Of Grammatoloay 158) . (Reading the 

opinion that Katherine offers, Peter adds to and helps write 

it; Katherine says what she "might as well" but might not 

have said: inseminated . Elsewhere she has wondered whether 

the association of the metaphors of reproduction might be 

"counter-productive" [TT 45]. One of the dwarves on Peter's 

authorial back is the double fear for his "career and actual 


sanity, should things go and stay where they've clearly been 

heading; and for the unthinkable burden it will place upon 

[their] parenthood if . . . his art turns out to have been 

sacrificed partly upon that altar" [TT 55-56]. Nevertheless 

Peter finds himself trying to write in the guest cottage, 

which has been turned into a nursery.) 

Our reading of Peter and Katherine 's reading is well 

marked. On opening the second flare canister they ask, 

Tongue-risking reader, what do you expect we 
expect? You're reading The Tidewater Tales! A 
Novel; we're telling our stories, which are our 
story, which we're living and have lived from 
moment to moment, creek to creek. (TT 370) 

Implied is that Peter and Katherine are also reading, like 

us ' The Tidewater Tal P.s: A Novel . They claim explicitly to 

read and hear the stories that make up The Tidewater Tales 

and to be planning a novel by that name. Their supposed 

reading of The Tide water Tales is a part of their stories, 

which are The Tide water Tales . They are not content to get 

on with what they call their "lives" before 

opening that Baggie, stripping the rubber bands 
off that roll of loose-leaf paper, and (Katherine 
first this time, passing on each manuscript page 
to Peter as she reads it) reading 


What follows is, presumably, a reading. But it is also a 

writing: "Act Two, Downstream, she says. Not even a title 

page. If we had found this first, we wouldn't even know 

what it was Act Two of (TT 371). Katherine 's comments, her 

reading, comes under Act Two's title, without being 

bracketed or otherwise graphically distinguished from the 


text that is read. We have only the identification of the 

speakers ("she says," "says Peter") that imply that what we 

are reading is not part of the text they are reading. But 

we are given no assurances; and, regardless, Peter and 

Katherine 's reading is part of our understanding, a part of 

our reading, of the text, SEX EDUCATION: Play . 

Peter and Katherine find they cannot read without 

interjecting a reading, without supplementing, without 

writing: reading Act One, "Peter says if she doesn't stop 

interrupting, we'll have to write her lines into the script" 

(TT 148), and "under Act Two's title," Act Two continues as 

if we are not already under Act Two's title, "(we still 

can't recall ever having seen chapter-like titles on the 

acts and scenes of television plays) she reads" 

Scene 1: The Swimmer 

Says Peter, What else is new? Katherine reads 
(TT 371-72) 

Not many lines into this reading that is also a writing of 

Act Two, what was suggested by an ambiguity is given a 

formality called for by the playscript; Peter and 

Katherine 's reading, which could not readily be 

distinguished from the supposed text being read, has become 

a formalized part of the playscript as if it were there 

already : 

MAY: Wasn't that second whirlpool a bitch! 
(As they speak, they repair their envelopes, 
assisting each other in the places difficult for 
the wearer to reach.) 


PETER: Don't start uh-ohing. Hand it over. 


JUNE: "Enjoy each stage, girls." (Thev lauah.) 
You're a terrific floater May! 

Here, says Katherine, passing him page one. 
That Enjoy Each Stage stuff sure does sound like 
Florence Halsey. It's all too spooky. 

MAY: You are. That last stretch of white water 

• • • 

JUNE: I maiored in White Water. 
KATHERINE: Yay! White Water! 

JUNE: But there isn't supposed to be any below 
the Confluence. 

MAY: What isn't supposed to be would fill a 

JUNE (Grins) ; Maybe we'll write one. 

PETER (When he reads this far) : A post- 
modernist self-reflexive lesbian menstrual comedy. 
(TT 372-73) 

It is important to notice that the reading is not completely 
lost in the text. Even after Peter and Katherine begin to 
speak in the dialogue among the other speakers, there are 
indications of their difference. Peter and Katherine 's 
dialogue is separated from that of May and June by spacing, 
as if to say beware that reading is not everything, a 
reading will always mark itself in the writing . The 
supplement does not reduce the text to a state of 

There are also two different types of passages that do 
the same sort of work: passages in prose dialogue wherein 
Peter or Katherine speak and describe their actions ("Here, 
says Katherine, passing him page one"); and passages in 
playscript dialogue, which can be coupled with stage 
directions that describe their actions ("PETER: . . . Hand 


it over," or "PETER fwhen he reads this farl ...«). it 
might appear that there is no reason for this difference, 
but it is an indication that there is a reading going on. 
The difference tells us over and over: there is a writing 
and a reading. Reading does not supplant writing. in 
reading, we don't read anything . we always also read what is 
written, but what is is always subject to the reading, a 
reading that is therefore a critical production of what the 
writer would say . 

On the other hand, neither the spacing of the dialogue 
nor the relation between what is said in playscript and what 
is said in prose gives us a way of distinguishing between a 
text that is "primary" and the supplement. If we claim that 
the dialogue between Peter and Katherine should be isolated 
as the supplement, we are forced to ask, why, then, the 
distinction between the playscript and the prose? The 
playscript and the prose do the same sort of work; but for 
the formalization into playscript, the prose is no less a 
part of the text that is read. This is to say that the 
difference between the playscript and the prose cannot be 
understood in terms of "levels" of supplementarity; they are 
both in the text. We have no way of deciding that one is a 
writing and the other a reading and no way of deciding that 
one was written or conceived of first. We read them already 
together. The spacing and the difference between the 
playscript and the prose do not allow us to decide anything, 
rather they mark the coupling of writing and reading and 


mark what Derrida calls the relation between what a writer 

commands and what he does not command; in this marking the 

difference and the spacing do productive work. 

We are not far into the script before Katherine is 

answering for (but not in place of) June: 

JUNE: I wish we could have talked awhile before 
we swam off. 

MAY: Talked! With a swimmer? 

KATHERINE: Why not? 

JUNE: Why not? 
June's answer sounds like an echo. In fact it crosses over 
the division between the primary and secondary text, between 
text and commentary. Katherine says, reads , "Why not?" 
before she comes to it. Is Katherine actually writing this 
text? Does June speak in response to Katherine reading? We 
come to find out, if we have not already made this part of 
our reading, that Frank's play is partly about Katherine 's 
friend May Jump and what May has told him about her 
relationship with Katherine. But, more importantly, 
Katherine 's anticipation of what the author would say 
signifies the breakdown of the categories by which we 
understand the relation between writing and reading, the 
breakdown of the system of understanding that would keep 
reading from becoming an aspect of the production of the 

In The Tidewater Tales , what the reader comes to expect 
of a text, the anticipation of a continuation or a 
divergence from a plot or a metaphor, for instance, is 


connected to a system of reading as production. Having 
received only Act One in the first flare canister, Peter and 
Katherine wonder about Act Two. Moreover, Katherine wants 
an Act Two. Besides the question of the quality of the work 
(Katherine does not consider it worthy of "literary" 
questioning) , an expectation is imposed. In the case of SEX 
EDUCATION: Play, Peter and Katherine are lead to expect 
something else because of an obvious structural absence: an 
Act One implies the existence of an Act Two. The 
establishment of systems of anticipation is seldom this 
simple though: 

It is Peter Sagamore's fear that there is not only 
an _ Act Two, but an Act Three as well: if not in 
this world, then in the heaven of dramaturgical 

The what? 

Says Peter we could write the rest ourselves: 
All the clues are right there in Act One. (TT 

As Peter spins out the possibilities and probabilities, 
Katherine stops him, sure he will "spoil the story" — the 
story, keep in mind, they don't have: 

How do you know all that? 

Freshman Dramaturgy, in Pete's opinion, So's 
the script, doesn't she think? 

Is he sure he didn't write it? (TT 161) 

Some questions follow from their anticipating Acts Two and 
Three. Peter denies having anything to do with such 
sophomoric dramaturgy, claims not to be the writer of SEX 
EDUCATION: Play, but to what extent should we understand 
him, as the reader, to be part of the same system of 


anticipation that allows such a script to be written ? And 
to what extent does a reading, any reading, require such an 
anticipation? On the other hand, if the reader can finish 
the work without the writer, why would anyone worry about 
the story being spoiled? When Katherine reads Act One she 
wears the hat that was floated off in the flare canister 
with the manuscript, the hat that Frank would wear while he 
was writing. Frank's floating the hat off with the 
manuscript was not simply an act of despair. Though it 
indicated his exasperation at his becoming an author of 
fiction, it also indicated the inevitable relinquishing of 
authority over the work, giving whoever would read the 
manuscript the power of authorship. We might also point out 
that as they tell each other the stories promised at the end 
of "Day 6," Peter and Katherine and Frank and Lee pass the 
hat to the one telling the story. 16 Thus, in reading the 
manuscript, Katherine and Peter help to produce the text. 

What should we, the readers of The Tidewater Tales: A 
Novel (as the narrators point out to us again) , expect of 
Act Three? of its being written? How are we to understand 
its being written? Having been inseminated by the reading 
of SEX EDUCATION: Plav. Peter's muse summons him to write, 
but only as "a warm-up" to "the real thing" (TT 549) , "ACT 
III: The Cove, or, Sex Education." As Peter "reads" for us 
what he has written, it is immediately apparent that this is 
not what the writer of Acts One and Two would have said . 

16 See, for example, TT 4 06. 


Peter writes Act Three (and he points this out to us within 

the Act [TT 619]) not as a play but in prose dialogue. "He 

is by nature," he has told us, "a narrator, not a 

dramatizer" (TT 162). Peter cannot be the writer; he cannot 

read from the position of the writer, which is to say that 

he cannot write, without also reading. Even as Peter reads 

what he has written, his listeners, who are essentially his 

readers, are careful to point out that this is Frank's play. 

The reader is only part, though a fully entitled part, of 

the production of the text. Because speakers are not 

identified on the left margin as in a playscript, there is 

another significant difference between what we would have 

called "Peter's text" and "Frank's text." There are no 

graphical distinctions between the text that was written and 

the supposed readerly insertions. Even if we wanted to, we 

could not sever, at a glance, the writing from the reading; 

we would be forced to make decisions (Derrida has told us 

that reading is a decision r Dissemination 63]) about who is 

speaking and whether this particular speaker is part of the 

text or the reading of the text. These sorts of decisions 

concerning the distinction between the text and its reading 

have become even more difficult to support. 

May Jump, who wants to hear Act Three without the 

benefit of a reprisal of Acts One and Two because she thinks 

she ought to be able to construct them if the writers have 

done their jobs, anticipates the direction of the story: 

June says That's two twenty magnetic. You said 
two ten. 


Remarks May Jump The current, dummy. Says 
Peter, glancing over at her with professional 
respect, the Swimmer says We have to allow for the 
current. . . . (TT 619) 

It isn't long before the anticipation of a current is 

articulated as a steering of the vessel, before May marks 

her getting caught in the production of the story: 

We can thank May's goodness, says the Swimmer. 

My pleasure, Kiss, says May Jump, giving 

Katherine a small hug. K sighs I'll never be 

black belt. Presses Peter June says Poor MavJ 
(TT 619) 

May responds in a joke, as if her interruption interrupted 
nothing and made no addition to Peter's Act Three. But in 
fact the current of her story, her relation to Katherine, is 
mixed with the current of "Peter's story." May and 
Katherine 's parting ways and Katherine 's becoming a parent 
with Peter, is, they all understand, reflected in Peter's 
text. There is nothing to keep a comment on that reflection 
out of the work, out of the reflection, away from those who 
would hear the story of the reflection. Peter "presses" 
forward with the story that is thereby remarked as "his," 
but must allow for, as do his characters, a current that is 
shifting, a current that more or less moves them all. 

All of the characters who listen to Peter read Act 
Three supplement the text. And the writer is, of course, 
not outside the production of supplements: "Says Peter 
aside, not particularly to Frank, All these 'smiling 
grimlys' and 'watching soberlys' will have to come out" (TT 
624) . Each reader makes the story "his" or "hers" by 
connecting it to a part of The Tidewater Tales that has been 


essential to his or her understanding of the story and of 

telling stories, which is to say that the possession or 

command over the text is never fixed in one writer or 

reader. When Peter reads that the Swimmer and June "haul up 

onto a deserted strand," the readers make their various 

predictions about the identity of the place: 

Ordinary Point, predicts Katherine. 
Carlita's otra cuevita r predicts Lee. 
Sheritt's Cove, predicts May Jump, smiling at 
Katherine [Sherritt's] lap. (TT 620) 

Calling it "A tell along playscript" (TT 624), Katherine 
comments on the comments as well as on the "script itself " 
further obscuring these sorts of distinctions. It is 
essential to remember that for Peter's playscript and for 
The Tidewater Tales telling along is not simply taking turns 
telling again a story already written, but rather reading in 
the story what supplements the story and becoming involved 
as the text's producer. 

"Interrupt, bids Peter: You're entitled" (TT 624). The 
story is also that of the reader. 

We can read The Tidewater Tales as a series of stories 
produced — read and written out of a given thread. In turn, 
the stories of four texts, which might in other contexts be 
called "historical," are taken up: Huckleberry Finn . The 
Oddyssey, Don Quixote, and The Thousand and One Nights . In 
each case the reading of these texts becomes significant in 
the production of The Tidewater Tales . it is not enough to 
say, as many of Barth's critics have, that in certain 
situations Barth uses "historical" texts (texts which are 


recognized as part of the history of literature) on which to 
construct his imaginary worlds. 17 Stopping there might 
mislead one to believe that one can write without taking up 
a given thread, without also reading the texts already part 
of the history of literature. Barth understands, though, 
that writing is not merely placing one text on top of 
another, not merely an addition. Barth has said that he 
thinks of himself as an arranger , "whose chiefest literary 
pleasure is to take a received melody — an old narrative 
poem, a classical myth, a shop worn literary convention 
. . . — and, improvising like a jazzman within its 
constraints, reorchestrate it to present purpose" (FB 7) . 
Though the stories of three of these four texts taken up in 
The Tidewater Tales are continued (we find out for instance 
what happens to Odysseus on his "Short Last Voyage") , their 
plots turn and their motivation rests on their being part of 
a system of production in which a reading is a necessary 
aspect of the text produced. "What is a book that no one 
reads?" Blanchot asks. "Something that has not yet been 
written" (Blanchot 93). 18 

In the following chapter on repetition, history, and 
narration, I discuss in detail this sort of criticism and 
its effects on the understanding of Barth 's work. 

18 Blanchot warns us that, in speaking about reading as 
production, there are delicate distinctions to be made; he 
would revise our calling the reader a producer because, he 
says, reading is not a "productive activity": "The nature of 
reading, its singularity, illuminates the singular meaning 
of the verb 'to make' in the expression 'it makes the work 
become a work . . . reading does not make anything, does not 
add anything; it lets be what is . . ." (94). It is worth 
pointing out that Derrida seems to take exactly the opposite 


In this chapter, I will take up only one of these 
stories in any detail: the tale of Scheherazade. She will 
become, therefore, part of my reading of the other three; 
that is neither regrettable nor particularly beneficial. 
Given the organization of this essay, that reading is 
inevitable, in the same way, Peter and Katherine's thorough 
reading of The Thou sand and One Niahts makes certain that it 
has an impact on the writing of their tidewater tales: Peter 
and Katherine remember their "recent dizzy conviction that 
where Huckleberry Findley, Odysseus Dmitrikakis, and Captain 
Donald Quicksoat have crossed wakes, Scheherazade must in 
some guise soon sail by" (TT 526) . The Scheherazade stories 
in The Tidewater Tales are, at least in part, stories that 
have been told by "Scheherazade" herself~"May Jump swears 
she met Scher in person last September in Annapolis" (TT 
524) . Scheherazade was having a difficult time getting back 
to her "reality," having found herself propelled into that 
of The Tidewater Tales by uttering the enchantment "What 
You've Done Is What You'll Do." 

position; he says that a criticism will always risk "the 
addition of some new thread. Adding, here, is nothing other 
than giving to read." Derrida explains "that it is not a 
question of embroidering upon a text, unless one considers 
that to know how to embroider still means to have the 
ability to follow the given thread" ( Dissemination 63). In 
other words, we don't add any old thing or anything that 
could be rigorously described as outside the text. This is 
where Blanchot's and Derrida' s seemingly opposite statements 
come together; to call production an "activity" can suggest 
that it is exterior to the thing acted on, and so reading 
should not be described in terms of the dichotomy between 
activity and passivity. 


The reading of Scheherazade in The Tidewater Tales 
begins as a question about form: Why The Thousand and n™ 
Nights? The question is addressed in "The Story of 
Scheherazade's First Second Menstruation." It is explained 
that it is a thousand and one nights before Scheherazade has 
two menstruations in a row; up to that point she had gotten 
pregnant before her second menstruation three pregnancies 
running. The question about the form of The Thousand and 
One Niqhts is also a question about its production; it 
regards not simply why it was written but also how it comes 
about. If we understand something of the significance of 
the story's shape, we will also understand something of the 
text's production. Moreover, in our reading of the shape of 
the text there will be an analogous production of another. 
"The first repeated message of [Scheherazade's] blood let 
her know that it was time for a change, ... a change, 
Scher said, May said, in the circumstances of her 
production" (TT 576) . 

The question about the number of nights, which is also 
a number of stories, leads the readers to a question about 
Scheherazade's cycles of menstruation, which is an issue in 
the organization of her life and in, as she says, the 
circumstances of her production. These circumstances are 
summed in a quotation of Goethe: " In the morning, study: -in 
the afternoon, work; in t he evening, eniov " [TT 576]). She 
sees her life so far as consisting of the first two, study 


and work; now it is time to enjoy. For Scheherazade, 

"study" consisted primarily of reading and memorization: 

Young Scher there had studied story telling like 
young Peter Sagamore in College Park and Portugal. 
Those thousand books of stories she collected; all 
those poets she learned by heart. She had boned- 
up in her library on the art of telling stories 
like Doctor Jack Bass in med school on the art of 
delivering babies. (TT 577) 

In the afternoon of her life she had done her work: she had 
told stories and borne babies, laboring always under the 
possibility of death if the delivery didn't go well. This 
is how Scheherazade would have the metaphor work: in the 
morning of life she studied (she read stories) and then that 
circumstance changed; in the afternoon she worked (she told 
stories and had babies) , and that circumstance changed. As 
May tells it, "There comes a time when removing the ax from 
the narrative neck is not only the fit reward for stories 
told and babies borne, but the best insurance of more to 
come. I mean maybe she'd tell and maybe she'd swell, but 
she'd earned the right, Scher figured, to tell no more 
stories ever; to bear no more children ever " (TT 577) . 

The problem with Scheherazade's metaphor is that the 
categories it established are not at all discrete. There is 
more than enough reason to question whether she can change 
the circumstances of her study or her work, her reading or 
her telling. 

According to Scheherazade, the source of her 
storytelling was a storyteller, whom she calls a "genie," 
who would appear to her and read installments of Richard 


Burton's 1885 edition of The Thousand Nights and a Nig ht. 
This reading creates, of course, an inexplicable circle. 
What is essential to our discussion is that it is a circle 
on which reading and writing are indisseverable. Her 
continued relation with the storyteller after the night of 
the thousand and first story, which is when the King 
retracts his sentence of executing a virgin a day and 
proposes marriage to Scheherazade, and her coming to the 
storyteller's "place and time and order of reality" mark 
what she calls the "change" in her circumstances of 

We are led to wonder whether her reading herself into 
The Tidewater Tales by speaking the enchantment changes 
those circumstances, whether her production is no longer a 
matter of also reading and whether she can tell without 
putting her life at stake. Having decided to change her 
circumstances, Scheherazade goes to her sister Dunyazade for 
advice. Rather than helping her change, Dunyazade reads her 
a story. And though Scheherazade says she "didn't really 
come ... to read stories" but rather "to tell . . . one" 
(TT 583), what follows is not only the critical reading of 
Scheherazade's story, but of writing in general. Even as 
Scheherazade "tells" her story, Dunyazade makes critical 
judgments about what needs to be said: 

I was there, Dunyazade reminded her. 

Right. But since Kuzia Fakan wasn't there, 
when Dunyazade writes this story out for her 
latest bed-and-bathtub partner to read, she'll 
include the following retrospective exposition, 
dialogue and all: (TT 583) 


Dunyazade not only considers the possibility of a future 
reading but makes a reading now, one that to a certain 
extent controls the telling of the story, saying in effect, 
Don't tell me that, don't make what I already know a part of 
this story, leave my understanding of what you would have 
said for the writing of my story, another story, which I 
will include here. And, further, Dunyazade 's reading of 
what Scheherazade would have said becomes a critical part of 
"Scheherazade's story": 

"If I understand you correctly [Dunyazade will say 
she said], you're saying that if for example this 
whole situation here were fiction instead of fact, 
and if in this piece of fiction you found the 
right way, after the King deflowers you, to make 
him want to go on sleeping with you night after 
night instead of cutting your head off in the 
morning — that whatever magic trick you found, it 
would come down to particular words on the page of 
the story of you and the King, right?" (TT 584) . 

After the flashback supposedly "ends" and the story "goes 

on" (Scheherazade tells us to never mind that she mightn't 

have told it just that way, as if to say, I'll let that 

reading stand, the divergences from my view are unimportant, 

but also to say, I can't help but let your reading become a 

part of "my" story) Dunyazade reads, critically, what 

Scheherazade does say: 

I told him later — 

Later later, smirked Dunyazade. Tell me later 
what you told each other later. What'd he say 
then ? What happened next? 

What happened next was. . . . (TT 586) 

Dunyazade 's reading (the supplement) is, it should be clear 
now, part of the production of the text and an allegory for 
that production generally. 


Scheherazade tells her story in The Tidewater Tales r 
May Jump tells us, so that in the telling she might be 
transported back to her place and time and order of reality, 
or so that her listeners (the members of The American 
Society for the Preservation of Storytelling) , storytellers 
all, might come up with the appropriate ending for her 
unfinished tale. She tells her story, in other words, as a 
sort of enchantment. Though the enchantment for getting her 
"here" is "What You've Done Is What You'll Do," what she has 
done will not get her back. What she has done will not be 
what she will do. And the story that she retells in The 
Tidewater Tales is not simply or absolutely a repetition 
because its telling involves a critical reading. Therefore, 
Scheherazade has not escaped the circumstance of her 
production that ties her to reading. And neither has she 
gotten out from under the narrative axe; in The Tidewater 
Tales, at stake in the production of the text is her life, 
her living, in The Thousand and One Nights . Telling under 
the ax is always the case. What Blanchot says of the 
relation between language and the supposedly real also 
describes the relation between texts: "For me to be able to 
say, 'This woman, ' I must somehow take her flesh and blood 
reality away from her, cause her to be absent, annihilate 
her." Blanchot is careful to point out that we know 
language does not kill anyone, but that it "essentially 
signifies the possibility of . . . destruction." This 
possibility is no less for the one who is speaking: "I say 


my name, and it is as though I were chanting my own dirge: I 
separate myself from myself, I am no longer either my 
presence or my reality, but an objective, impersonal 
presence, the presence of my name, which goes beyond me and 
whose stone-like immobility performs exactly the same 
function for me as a tombstone writhing on the void" 
(Blanchot 42-43). No matter what Scheherazade tells of 
herself in this story, it will never be what she was, which 
is why Blanchot can also say, paradoxically, that "the book 
that has been exhumed ... is born all over again" (93). 
May Jump says, even before suggesting the possibility of a 
change, "the storytellers present have had their necks right 
on the line like Scher, 'cause every time we come to bat, 
excuse my metaphor, it's a whole new ball game" (TT 577). 

When Scheherazade is "transported" back, it isn't by an 
enchantment, a chanting or a repetition, not by finding a 
formula in words that needs repeating. And further, no one 
can finish the story for her by simply repeating it, because 
no one sees her disappear. The unfinishedness of her story 
remains an aspect of the story. Though Peter suggests that 
May Jump should finish the story the following night, the 
way Scheherazade would have r May tells him not to count on 
it. We can not count on the story's ever being finished 
because (as well as adding to) the supplement also replaces 
what it supplements. Every time the supplement replaces a 
text in order to complete it, the supplement points out its 


need for a supplementation, a replacement; therefore the 
text is remarked as fundamentally incomplete. 

The characters within the story cannot read the story's 
conclusion, the mark that pushes toward the outside. Though 
in effect (but not in fact) the characters have been reading 
and writing this text along the way, when "Scheherazade 
Tucks Us All in" (in "The Ending"), they will not have seen 
what takes place. If we read this vicariously as if outside 
the production of the supplement or if we can find the 
voices of Peter and Katherine in "The Ending" (which some 
might call a conclusion) the conclusion is thereby pushed 
further on. Derrida wonders that, if the laws and rules of 
texts run the risk of being definitely lost, "who will ever 
know of such disappearances?" ( Dissemination 63) ; how will 
we know of the disappearance (of the conclusion, for 
example) if we can't see the thing that disappears, if 
disappearance is incorporated into the text's writing. 

In "The Ending," laboring under the appearance of 
having changed her circumstance again, Scheherazade tells 
the story of her story telling in the "reality" of The 
Tidewater Tales , tells again without repeating the story of 
a critical reading. No longer does the King, now her 
husband, threaten to kill her in the morning, but 
nevertheless the narrative ax is still raised. It is up to 
Scheherazade not simply to finish her story but also the 
story of "us all," to make a reading and a supplement that 
will be the last, a self-defeating task. Barth has noticed 


that her coming to an end is problematic if not impossible: 

"Indeed, there's a wry implication," in the King's order 

that Scheherazade's stories be written down, "that her next 

massive narrative labor will have to be telling all those 

stories over again, to the scribes, plus the one about 

herself and Shahryer . . . " (FB 280). Her work is not over 

and neither is that of The Tidewater Tales . The story of 

the story being told always remains to be told. Though, 

according to Barth, she has earned the right not to tell any 

more stories ever, that right can never be exercised within 

the text if her task is to come to the end of the story. 

Though her "first failure to conceive—a kind of biological 

writer's block— could well serve to remind Scheherazade that 

on any morning after the night when her teaming brain shall 

finally have been gleaned, she might preemptorily cease to 

be" (FB 279), the morning after will never have come. 

Like The Tide water Tales: A Novel . finished now 
But for some wrap-up word, some curtain line . . . 

. . . Comrade reader, look again. 

Through the keyless hole or holeless key of Form. 

We thought we lacked a closing rhyme for cost 

To end our poem with: one less bleak then lost . 

Remember? But we were in formal fact 

Not at the end at all. 

In formal fact we, they, are still not at the end, not 

We'd launched a new stanzaic pair: a Jack 
Implying and preceding some new Jill 

. . . A whole 

New ball game! Maybe a whole new tale in verse 
... or prose: Our House's Increase r by P.S. out 


of Katherine Sherrit Sagamore, its Once Upon a 
Time the Ever After of: 

And on a new page: 





A new page, a new story, indeed. This new title page, a 
supplementary repetition, tucks itself into The Tidewater 
Tales; it forces us to pick up a thread but demands also a 
new reading, which is to say a critical reading, a critical 

I should say in the manner of Derrida, though not in 
the same context nor in exactly the same words, that reading 
is certainly a production, because I do not simply duplicate 
what the writer thinks of reading. If the production 
attempts to make the supplement an issue in the reading of 
The Tidewater Tales, it does not leave the text; that is, 
the production does not bring in from outside the text or 
from some outside-text the question of the supplement. As 
Derrida says of Rousseau, it is contained in the 
transformation of the language it designates, in the 
regulated exchanges between the writer and history ( Of 
Grammatoloay 163-64) . 


In this chapter I will advance two theses that are not 
entirely distinct ideologically or even textually (though 
they might seem to be) . They are divided so that in the 
sequentially for which they call and in their reprisal of 
each other they might better illustrate' the questioning of 
repetition, of history, and of narration. 

The fact that Barth is interested in repetition as a 
subject to be taken up in fiction, in fact as a subject 
demanded by fiction, has not gone undetected. His critics 
have approached the general issue in a variety of ways: in 
terms of doubling, in terms of parody and imitation, and 
perhaps most thoroughly in terms of self -ref lection. 19 So 
far, though, as we will see, the idea of a textual 
repetition has not been fully developed. Up to now the 
claims about repetition in Barth have been based on the 
assumption that the repetition of or in a text is 
containable and finite, that we can go back to a time before 
repetition, and that we can, therefore, identify the 
"original" repetition and the thing that was for the "first 

19 <-. j? 

See, for example, Bell, Kennard, and Antush. 



time" repeated. Any repetition in a text, though, is always 
the repetition of a repetition. One cannot move back to the 
"thing" (textual or otherwise — it may be that repetition 
defines a thing as textual, that a thing cannot be repeated 
without being in some way a text 20 ) ; one cannot move back to 
the "thing" that is not itself a repetition. Repetition, in 
other words, occurs only without end and constitutes, 
therefore, a speculative organization of texts. 21 

The critics who have read Barth in terms of his 
relation to and position in history have encountered a 
problem similar to that of the speculative guality of 
repetition. More often than not critics want to place Barth 
in relation to the "historical record," which is presumed to 
be fixed. 22 That presumption cannot be verified. What one 

20 For a discussion of the "thing" as it relates to 
language, see Derrida's Sicmeponcre / Siansponae . 

2 1 

In my discussion of repetition I follow Derrida's 
use of the term speculation in his essay "To Speculate — on 
'Freud.'" In the first section, "Notices (Warnings)," he 
outlines his use of the term in three senses: (1) that of 
specular reflection (a principle's recognition or lack of 
recognition of itself) ; (2) "of the production of surplus 
value, of calculations and bets on the Exchange"; and (3) 
"in the sense of that which overflows the (given) presence 
of the present" ( The Post Card 284). The third of these is 
the most important for this study, though the first also 
comes into play. The speculation of Freud remains 
unresolved ( speculation may by definition suggest the lack 
of resolution) because with each attempt to conclude another 
speculation is made: "the last paragraph . . . begins with 
the project of a new engagement, another initiative, as if 
it were still necessary to institute ( einzusetzen ) another 
problematic. ..." Repeated in both Freud and Barth is the 
deferral of the subject of speculation, such that deferral 
occupies the extent of the text and speculation comes to 
describe a repetition without end. 

22 See, for example, Diser, and Holder. 


finds in searching for the truth or meaning of history is 
that the record is always defective, in part because 
"facts, » information, texts, about the so-called historical 
event are always found to be missing. Rather than a history 
"pieced together" we have ever widening gaps, a disturbing 
encompassing absence of history - Our subject, therefore, is 
not simply the place of truth in history. We will ask, 
rather, what follows the questioning of truth. And what 
follows, we will find, organizes itself narratively, because 
any question about truth will lead one back and therefore 
will constitute and will call for the construction of a 
sequence and will rely on a temporality. 

The Coming Back of Repetition. A Speculative 
Organization of Texts 

With a movement essential to the telling of stories, we 
will return to a story that is also the deferral of a story 
within Sabbatical and The Tidewater Talp.s that both 
illustrates and is a part of a repetition and a speculation: 
the coming back of the hat. 

Sabbatical is framed, so to speak, by Fenn's losing and 
finding his hat. 23 Near the beginning, just before he and 
Susan reach Poe Cove, Fenn leans out over the gunwale to 

2 3 

In Freud, the hat is considered a symbol of the male 
genital organ and also of castration. It is an extention of 
the head, which is considered phallic, and can be detached 
as in saluting, which is why the salute by taking off the 
hat signifies an abasement before the saluted person (Freud 
14: 162-63). 


make sure they have cleared some crab pot buoys, and the 
starboard lifeline sweeps the hat from his head (S 23). 
Near the end, just after Susan suggests that they separate 
and both of them are immobilized and near hysteria, Fenn 
leaps up without knowing why, and then something catches his 
eye. Spearing down with the boat hook, Fenn fishes out a 
black beret. The losing and finding of the hat is, of 
course, significant but not simply as a framing device and 
not simply because it occurs within the context of 
significant action and marks the development of significant 
metaphors. Fenn has lost his hat twice before, previous to 
the present time of the novel. And in The Tidewater Tales . 
Peter will find and return the hat that Frank has sent off 
on the tide of his own accord. 

For Fenn (and for Frank, who we will come to recognize 
as Fenn's reprisal and seguel in The Tidewater Ta1g<^ r the 
losing and the finding of the hat amount to a repetition , a 
repetition not simply or absolutely of one event but rather 
the repetition of the frame, the framing of the story. 
On the heels of telling the story of losing the hat in the 
Tajo de Ronda, Fenn explains that it is the telling of 
stories that causes the return: 

I lost it a second time ten years later, on 
company business, late at night on the dock of a 
certain safe-house across the Bay from here. I 
told my colleagues this story — just the boina part 
of it. Next day Count himself found my hat on the 
beach, washed up by the tide right in front of the 
safe-house. . . . The guestion before us now is 
whether it's the Ronda story that's needed to 
bring it back this third time or the Choptank 


River safe-house story, which I haven't told you 
yet. (S 45-46) 

Because Fenn identifies the coming back of the hat with 
the coming to an end of a stage of his life (S 44), but 
especially because the coming back washes into the telling 
of stories, he is in no hurry to get the hat back and in "no 
hurry to find out" (S 46) which story is needed to bring it 

Since the coming back of the hat this third time will 
be the framing of their story, the framing of Sabbatical , 
what the narrators think of as the completion and the coming 
to the end of Fenn and Susan, they will defer the telling of 
the story indefinitely. Sabbatical will become the story 
that has not yet been told, not yet completed. The 
repetition that is its framing will be shown to occur 
without end. The coming back of the hat "near the end" of 
Sabbatical will be shown to be a speculative repetition of a 
speculative end. 

With this general introduction, I would like to step 
back to the works on which this reading is based to 
establish if not a method of reading then a preliminary 
immersion in the coming back. The story of the losing and 
finding of the hat is very similar to the story of the 
fort: da of the spool in Freud's Beyond the Pleasure 
Principle . Very generally, this is the story of the child 
who makes a game of throwing a spool with a string tied to 
it into a cot and making a sound that represents, according 
to Freud, the German word " fort " ("gone") and then pulling 


the spool out of the cot again by the string and hailing its 
reappearance with a joyful "da" ("there") . Freud concludes, 
"This, then, was the complete game — disappearance and 
return" (18: 15) . 

In his essay "To Speculate — on 'Freud'" (in The Post 
Card) , Derrida takes up the story of the spool as a way of 
dealing with the methodology of the second chapter of 
Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle . Derrida argues that 
not only is the repetitive process to be found in "the 
content, the examples, and the material described and 
analyzed by Freud, but already, or again, in Freud's 
writing, in the demarche of his text, in what he says, in 
his 'acts,' if you will, no less than in his 'objects'" ( The 
Post Card 295) . The second chapter of Beyond the Pleasure 
Principle, the one that contains the story of the spool, 
advances arguments without itself advancing, without making 
any decisions about that which it questions, the absolute 
authority of the pleasure principle. 

What repeats itself ... in this chapter is the 
speculator's indefatigable motion in order to 
reject, to set aside, to make disappear to 
distance ( fort ) , to defer everything that appears 
to put the pleasure principle into question. He 
observes every time that something does not 
suffice, that something must be put off until 
further on, until later. Then he makes the 
hypothesis of the beyond come back [revenir] only 
to dismiss it again. (Derrida, The Post Card 295) 

For example, Freud takes up the issue of children's play, 

the story of the spool, by leaving behind, without 

concluding, the "dark and dismal subject of traumatic 

neurosis'" (18: 14); and as he begins his interpretation, he 


resigns himself again by dismissing the value of a single 
case study — "no certain decision can be reached from the 
analysis of a single case like this" (18: 16). 

Derrida calls this "argument," the proceeding of 
Freud's writing, Beyond the Pleasure Principle 's pas de 
these because despite several steps forward there is no 
advancement in the guestion of the pleasure principle as 
absolute master. Freud puts forward, "advances," "argues," 
a thesis that is not a thesis, by taking steps that go 
nowhere, pas de these (a non- thesis organized as if it were 
taking argumentative steps ) . 

For Freud, the game was related to the child's 
"instinctual renunciation (that is, the renunciation of 
instinctual satisfaction) which he had made in allowing his 
mother to go away without protesting." The "repetition of 
this disturbing experience" as a game should be considered 
an illustration of the pleasure principle because the 
mother's "departure had to be enacted as a necessary 
preliminary to her joyful return" (Freud 18: 16). The game 
is also connected to the father's absence, which Freud says 
has caused the child some anxiety. 

Derrida argues that Freud's description and 

interpretation of the story of the spool itself proceeds 

according to the logic of the fort: da : 

Fold back: he (the grandson of his grandfather, 
the grandfather of his grandson) compulsively 
repeats repetition without it ever advancing 
anywhere, not one step. He repeats an operation 
which consists in distancing, in pretending ( for a 
time , for time: thereby writing and doing 


something that is not being talked about, and 
which must give good returns) to distance 
pleasure, the object or principle of pleasure, the 
object and/or the pleasure principle, here 
represented by the spool which is supposed to 
represent the mother (and/or, as we will see, 
supposed to represent the father . . . ) , in order 
to bring it (him) back indefatigably. It (he) 
pretends to distance the pleasure principle in 
order to bring it (him) back ceaselessly, in order 
to observe that itself it (himself he) brings 
itself (himself) back (for it (he) has in it (him) 
self the principle force of its (his) own economic 
return to the house, his home, near it (him) self 
despite all the difference), and them to conclude: 
it (he) is still there, I am always there. Da. 
The pleasure principle maintains all its (his) 
authority, it (he) has never absented it (him) 
self. ( The Post Card 302) 

The movement of the fort: da . Derrida shows, is therefore a 
double movement, a double fort : da . a coming back of 
repetition itself in the writing. The story "conjugates 
into the same . . . writing the narrated and the narrating 
of this narrative ..." (Derrida, The Post Card 303). 

What is essential for us is to mark, to repeat, to re- 
mark, the fort : da of Sabbatical . 

In Sabbatical, we notice a repetition not only of the 
object that frames the story, not only of the hat, but also 
of the process of writing by which the story is told. That 
Fenn is in no hurry to find out which story will frame 
Sabbatical, how Sabbatical will end, is marked by the 
narrators from the first paragraph forward. Fenn would be 
happy to "tell the story again" as Susan demands in the 
opening lines, 

But before he can invoke his dark-eyed muse, sole 
auditor, editor, partner, wife, best friend, 


Fenwick is interrupted for two nights and a day by 
"A Storm at Sea" is the story of the storm that interrupts 
Fenn and Susan's passage into the Chesapeake Bay where the 
bulk of their story takes place. As they notice trying to 
bring their story to a close, "A Storm at Sea" is the 
interruption of their "writing" as well as their voyage. 
They claim in fact that the interruption "begins" their 
writing (S 3 65) . Not far into "A Storm at Sea" Fenn is 
still "wondering what words must follow Once upon a time," 
wondering how to proceed after one has begun to write, and 
defers the story again (defers, this time, the story of the 
storm at sea) by relating "A Dialogue on Diction, three days 
later, safely at anchor in Poe Cove, Key Island, Virginia" 
(S 11) . And on the heels of that story is the one that 
concerned us preliminarily, "The Story of Fenwick Turner's 
Boina," which is itself an interruption of the question that 
Susan wants Fenn to address: 

I'd been wearing it by then a dozen years 

Those years don't count. Where was I? 

If I tell you the story of my boina, it will 
come back to me. 

The story? Or where I was? 

Mi boina. 

How so? 

That's another story. First comes 

At the conclusion of "The Cove," which is the first part of 
Sabbatical, the part that contains the stories just 
mentioned, and within the section called "Our Story" (which 


is itself a deferral: "For encouragement we speak, not of 
our recent stories, but of 'Our Story'" [S 71]), Fenn and 
Susan decide that they will "work in the exposition" as they 
"go along" (S 72) . This apparently means that the story 
they want to tell will be told somewhere along the line, 
within the story and within Sabbatical . But telling the 
story does not turn out to be so simple. Susan points out, 
as an example of the need to work in exposition and of the 
fact that working it in will keep them busy, that "the 
reader doesn't know yet . . . about her seducing Fenwick on 
Cacaway Island in 1972." They have left something else out 

We forgot Gus and Manfred. 

Good night, poor fellows. Rest you easy. 

The reader doesn't know yet about Gus and 
Manfred, really. 

What the reader doesn't know yet would fill a 

Oy. Who said that? 

I did. (S 73) 

In fact, the story does fill a book, it fills Sabbatical, 
but it is not simply the story of Gus and Manfred or of 
Fenwick' s being seduced on Cacaway. Even if these stories 
are told, they make room for yet larger, more encompassing 
deferrals. What "fills the book" is the deferral, the 
repetitious putting off, of the story. Sabbatical comes to 
be the story of the deferral of the story. 

Two of the most prominent deferrals are those of the 
story of Susan's pregnancy and abortion, which we considered 
in Chapter II, and the story of Fenn's cardiac episode. One 
notices, in reading Sabbatical , not the significant subject 


that occupies the minds of the narrators, but rather the 
significance of the subject, the subject that is not talked 
about directly. One notices that something is deferred, 
that a story is to be told but will not be told for a while, 
not yet. The footnote to the opening lines tells us that 
Susan's tears "shall be made clear, in time" (S 9) , and, 
when her weeping is taken up again, when she weeps again , 
the tears are explained "but for one detail" (S 47) . That 
one detail, which is left out, occupies the telling and the 
deferral of the rest of the story. Mentioned off-handedly 
as if insignificant and thereby put at a distance, Susan's 
pregnancy and the bind in which it places her are in part 
what the story is about (but what the story is about is also 
deferred) . 

We will recognize, in the paradoxical relation between 
the presence of the subject of the story and the story's 
deferral, that the story cannot be an absolute deferral of 
itself because the deferral has to be (is inevitably) 
marked. The story not told is hinted at and pointed to so 
that we notice its not being told. When Fenn puts his ear 
to Susan's belly "as if to listen for a heartbeat there" (S 
26) , we do not know yet that there is a heartbeat there to 
hear. And even at the closing of the first chapter of "The 
Fork," which is the third and apparently final part, we 
cannot be sure why "Susan slips her left hand down inside 
the front of her jeans and underpants and presses her belly, 
between navel and pubic hair" (S 243). We can be sure, 


though, that what we are reading is not the story, that is, 
not the story remarked as deferred: 

Subdued Fenwick decides not to tell her now. 
Subdued Susan decides not to tell him now. (S 

Susan decides, in fact, not to tell Fenn about her pregnancy 

at all or until after the pregnancy's termination. And the 

reader of the deferral does not know about or at least does 

not feel sure in the knowledge about, Susan's being pregnant 

until "Susan's Friday," which is the story of her abortion, 

until the pregnancy, its termination, is no longer a subject 

of debate. The reader is forced to speculate about that 

which is not talked about. 

Susan's pregnancy had put her in a bind that required 

the story's being put off. She knew that if she had told 

Fenn that she was pregnant, Fenn would have agreed, 

sincerely, to her having the child, though he does not want 

children, and Susan wants children only if Fenn wants them 

to start with. 

I hated all that faking with the Midols and the 
Tampax, but I couldn't accept that we got 
ourselves pregnant before we'd decided one way or 
the other, or that we'd decided not to decide, or 
decided no but couldn't acknowledge it. I didn't 
want to have that baby, much as I wanted it more 
than anything! I didn't want to abort it till we 
got home, and I didn't want to go around till then 
being pregnant ! I didn't want to talk about it or 
about aborting it, to spare both of us. (S 333) 

Especially to spare Fenn because of his heart. "The truth 

is," says Fenn, "there's been some new justification" for 

fearing another heart attack. Fenn takes his turn telling: 


the episode on the bus that Wednesday en route 
from D.C. to Solomons Island. He would have told 
her about it that same evening, but she was wiped 
out already from coping with Miriam and the boys 
on board, and so he put off telling her and put 
off telling her, just as we put off acknowledging 
our pregnancy and, since Black Friday, its 
aborting. (S 333) 

The implication in both of these speeches is that now the 

stories have been "told" and that we have come to a kind of 


Freud calls the disappearance and return of the spool a 
"complete game" but we must add that any completion must be 
understood in terms of its double, the reflection in the 
writing about the story. Derrida notices that "if the game 
is called complete on one side and the other, we have to 
envisage an eminently symbolic completion which itself would 
be formed by these two completions, and which therefore 
would be incomplete in each of its pieces, and consequently 
would be completely incomplete when the two incompletions, 
related and joined the one to the other, start to multiply 
themselves, supplementing each other without completing each 
other" ( The Post Card 320) . We will recognize about 
Sabbatical that the telling of the stories is always only 
supplemental in that it adds to a story about it (the story) 
that is not, ever, itself complete. 

Our sense of Sabbatical "having read" it is that it is 
an unfinished story. The abortion story or the story of 
Fenn's cardiac episode does not answer the guest ion about 
whether Fenn and Susan will have children. That is a 
decision, as we have already seen, that is never, within 


Sabbatical, made. Fenn's suggestion that the story is their 

child (S 3 57) is for Susan, which is to say for Sabbatical . 

unsatisfactory. Though it was their intention that by the 

end of the voyage they would have known their hearts and 

minds about "several decisions which lie ahead" (S 84) , the 

decisions still lie ahead : 

Does that make sense? 


Edgar's dripping pickle on your blouse. 

So he drips. 

We've spent our sabbatical that way, haven't 

Dripping pickle? 

Putting off crossing bridges till we come to 
them and then not coming to them. 

Our eyes meet, sort of. Susan bites her meat. 

What's doing for Doog? (S 278) 

The first deferral, here, is almost unrecognizable as a 
deferral. It is as much a confusion of subject. Susan asks 
what Fenn is talking about; there are two possibilities. 
Her guestion, though, names one of the possibilities, 
"dripping pickle," the apparently trivial one, and thereby 
defers the matter at hand. Fenn wants to know about their 
repetitious, if not continual, putting off of decisions. 
The subject of deferral is itself put off: "Susan bites her 
meat. What's doing for Doog?" What is more, Fenn does not 
try to get her back on track, back to the "meat" of the 
story. He answers her guestion without demanding one for 

This deferral continues, remarked again by Fenn's 
coming back to the subject only circumspectly: 

Thinking of his conversation with Margot 
Scourby, Fenn declares that it's like what 


spending years writing a novel without any clear 
idea where it's going, but perfectly confident 
that you'll know exactly what to say when the time 
comes, must be like. Susan says that that doesn't 
strike her as a very exact comparison. I know 
what you mean, says Fenn. It is, though. 

This is the voice of the Enlightened Eighteenth 
century? Jesus, Edgar, let's go back to work. We 
stroll with him toward our separate desks. (S 

As soon as the issue, which has become the deferral of 

stories and telling without telling comes back, it is put 

off again. Fenn and Susan go to their separate desks in 

order not to talk: "Susan reports I sent in all my 

Swarthmore forms this morning. Me too Delaware, says Fenn. 

We'll decide soon" (S 279). (Swarthmore and Delaware are 

locations that have come to represent the two different 

directions they could go either together, one or the other 

giving up a position already offered, or separately.) We 

could go on pointing out deferrals almost indefinitely, and 

that is our point here. Not only are the decisions so often 

called for not made, but the deferral itself becomes 

intertwined in the general system of deferral. Susan and 

Fenn want neither to talk about the decisions not made nor 

about not making the decisions; they want not to remark the 

deferral, but as we have seen, that is impossible. They 

have spent their entire sabbatical that way. All of 

Sabbatical is the deferral and the remarking of the 

deferral . 

Though tying up at Chief and Virgie's dock, at Key 
Farm, Wye Island, completed Fenn and Susan's return in a 
sense, Fenn says, "it ended neither our sabbatical nor our 


cruise." At the "end" of Sabbatical , Fenn and Susan are 
still on board. 

Confronting their inability to decide and Susan's 
"incredible proposal" that they separate, Fenn and Susan 
find themselves stuck, but the story is framed nevertheless: 
"We can neither go forward nor go back" (S 347) . Floating 
there in mid-channel, the hat returns: "he leaps up; doesn't 
even know why. . . . what is he up to? He doesn't know. . , 
He has sprung to the gunwale, to the cabin, trunk. Sue sits 
up alarmed. Fenn's looking about him like a crazy man. Now 
something's caught his eye!" (S 348). The story is framed 
as with an inevitability. Though on finding it, they toast 
"Aristotle on coincidence" (S 350) , the hat does not catch 
Fenn's eye by accident. it has to occur now, because this 
is the frame. Fenn doesn't know why he leaps up or what he 
is looking for; this points out not simply an intuition, but 
the inevitability of the return. Given the organization of 
the story and the hat's function as the framing device, the 
hat could not do otherwise but come back. 

We have been making a misrepresentation if we have 
spoken of the return of the hat. What comes back is "a 
black beret" (S 349, emphasis mine). This distinction is 
significant because it calls into guestion the 
definitiveness of the return and of the frame. Susan, in 
fact, is "incredulous": "That's your new one! You just 
dropped it in and picked it up! Fenn shakes his head; can't 
speak. You found your old one at Key Island the day we lost 


it, and hid it away till now! Fenn shakes his head. ..." 
When Fenn does speak he claims the validity and the 
completeness of the return: "Fetch up the Dom Perignon*" (S 
349) . The footnote to Fenn's statement tells us that this 
is the same Dom Perignon Fenn and Susan were to have drunk 
and didn't when they returned to Wye Island. For Fenn, in 
other words, the finding of the hat marks a more definitive 
conclusion, the completion of their story and voyage. 

For Susan, though, it is an "irrelevant miracle." Fenn 
understands that it does not matter whether this black beret 
is the same black beret lost at Key Island; the return can 
function as a frame nevertheless. But only a frame. The 
finding of a hat is irrelevant to a return beyond which no 
return can occur, irrelevant to a return that is absolute. 
Susan has just declared, "I can't take life. I can't take 
it that there's nothing but you and me, and soon we'll get 
old and sick and die" (S 345) . What she wants is the 
completion that is absolute, the answer, the frame, the 
return, the black beret. But, forever, Fenn and Susan can 
only speculate. We only know, in Sabbatical , that Fenn and 
Susan's relationship is in guest ion and that whether or not 
they will have children is undecided. The coming back of 
the hat and the story about the coming back overlap each 
other, neither allowing the other the completion they both 
call for. Derrida says that this doubling is always the 
case: "The scene of the fort/ da, whatever its exemplary 
content, is always in the process of describing in advance, 


as a deferred overlapping, the scene of its own description. 
The writing of a fort/ da is always a fort / da" ( The Post Card 
321) . Derrida indicates this overlapping with a colon: 
" fort: da ." 

Implicit in what I have said thus far but not yet 
brought into the argument is the fact that the present 
action of Sabbatical is devoted to the coming back home of 
Fenn and Susan on their sailboat, Pokey . Sabbatical is the 
story of this particular "sabbatical's end" (S 9), Fenn and 
Susan's return. They have been on a leave of absence, a 
vacation, and now it is time to get back to the serious 
business of organizing lives and making career decisions. 
Freud characterizes the fort: da of the spool as children's 
play; it is the action of the game. The child would play 
the game with all his toys, would throw them "away from him 
into a corner, under the bed, and so on so that hunting for 
his toys and picking them up was often quite a business" 
(Freud 18: 14). Derrida notices that for Freud "the work 
consists of reassembling, of searching in order to bring 
together, or reuniting in order to give back . In return, he 
will call play the dispersion which sends far away (the 
operation of distantiation) , and will call playthings 24 the 
collection of manipulated objects" ( The Post Card 309) . 

In The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund 
Freud, 1955, Strachey translates Spjelzeuge as "toys"; here 
Derrida prefers the variant "playthings," which in English 
reflects more readily the play of the child and the doubling 
of that play in Freud's writing. 


The opposition between play and work and its connection 
to dispersion and return are rendered in Sabbatical in terms 
of the sabbatical voyage and connected to the issue of 
childbearing. Wondering about their usefulness, Fenn and 
Susan reflect: 

We have been, in the main, indulging ourselves, 
amusing ourselves. We have been playing. 

Over the third guarter of her club sandwich, 
Susan lays that term on the table. Fenn knows 
what it betokens: his wife's dark, sometimes 
feeling that our years together, precious as 
they've been to both of us, are themselves a kind 
of playing: not finally serious, as the lives of 
Susan's child-raising house-buying contemporaries 
might be said to be serious. : . . (s_ 159) 

And when Fenn summarizes his conversation with Dugald 
Taylor, his friend and ex-CIA colleague, omitting the part 
about "that rumored heart-attack drug which he had half- 
seriously speculated just before his excursion, and his 
cardiac alarm on the bus ride home," but reporting 
faithfully the alleged "pitch" made by the CIA to Carmen, 
Susan's mother, Susan wonders how Fenn could not have told 
her right away: "Get me off this fucking toy!" (s 165-66). 
What is serious is coming home, enjoying, engendering, and 
possibly protecting the family, and, as we will see, buying 
a house. 

Freud begins the story of the spool by declaring 
children's play one of the mind's earliest " normal 
activities" (Freud 18: 14). Play, on the other hand, is not 
entirely normal for the adult, in particular, the adult's 
writing about play. Freud describes his writing as serious: 
an analysis, a formally organized study. For Susan, playing 


with Pokey is essentially abnormal: "I want a normal house 
with kids and dogs and petunias" (S 33). The boat is, in 
Derrida's terms, the manipulated object of the game; but it 
is not only the plaything that is sent out, it is also that 
which carries the players away with it, that which allows 
Fenn and Susan themselves to become the manipulated objects 
of the game. Pokey , whose name is decidedly childish but 
nevertheless has far-reaching "serious" metaphorical 
familial ramifications, 25 can not be for Susan the house of 
the serious childbearing parents. (That the boat is also a 
toy does not bother Peter in The Tidewater Tales ; it is the 
only place he can write comfortably, in fact, the place 
where he begins his labor, which must precede the delivery 
of the story with which he has been pregnant.) Fenn has 
already tried to convince Susan, and us, that the categories 
are not absolute: "We haven't been just playing; we've been 
also playing. We're on a well-earned sabbatical 
leave. . . . Things have happened in our lives. We have 
decisions to make. The idea of sabbaticals is to . . . take 
stock. . . . That's what we've tried to do" (S 159). As we 
have seen, the writing of the story has been playing at the 
return, "also playing," though the presumption has been that 
it is serious work. Here is the overlapping of play and 
work and why Derrida calls the fort : da "serious play" (The 
Post Card 320) . For Susan, bearing children is the one 

See the discussion of Poe Cove and Key Island in 
Chapter II. 


thing that cannot be child's play. Because having children 
is what Susan wants, play, for her, is fundamentally 
abnormal. She wants not to be the child (to play normally), 
but rather to have the child (to not play) , and, until she 
does, her life, as compared to the lives of her child- 
raising contemporaries, cannot be said to be serious. 

Fenn's attempt to illustrate the seriousness of the 
sabbatical only partly works. Though they have tried to 
take stock in order to make decisions, they have essentially 
failed. No decisions about the things that really matter, 
whether Fenn and Susan will have children and whether they 
will be together in order to have children, have been 
forthcoming. Nor are they likely to be. The sabbatical is 
a game, but one that has to be worked at and one that has 
serious consequences. As Fenn puts it, "Not everybody has 
to be D.H. Lawrence or Dostoevsky, thank heaven. . . . You 
can be serious with a smile" (S 159) . 

Let us go back to Derrida in order to move (forward?) 
into the question of history. We have noticed, in scenes 
that reflect each other, that the return is doubled in the 
story that relates the return. Speaking again of Freud's 
Beyond but in terms directly applicable to Sabbatical , 
Derrida brings into play the notion of the repetition en 
abyme 26 : "The story that is related . . . seems to put into 

26 Derrida' s translator, Alan Bass, notes, as we will 
here, that "En abyme is the heraldic term for infinite 
reflection, e.g., the shield in the shield in the shield 
. . ." ( The Post Card 304). 


' abyme ' the writing of the relation (let us say the history, 
Historie of the relation, and even the history, Geschichte, 
of the relator relating it) . Therefore the related is 
related to the relating. The site of the legible, like the 
origin of writing, is carried away with itself" ( The Post 
Card 304) . 

Fenn and Susan maintain that going back is essential to 
moving forward: "Once again, it is harking back that turns 
the key, that is the key, to harking forward" (S 253) . 
Their harking back, though, does not bear them out. They 
seem, rather, to be rushing into the abyme of reflected 

Harking back to "Part I, The Cove, Key," the narrator's 
recall, "Sue proposed that we begin in the middle, here 
aboard Pokey , reentering the Chesapeake, say, on the last 
leg of our sabbatical cruise, and then fill in with a series 
of flashbacks what's fetched us here, advancing the present 
action one step between each flashback until the 
exposition's done . . ." (S 171). We have already seen that 
their steps forward do not appear to be advancing anywhere. 
Fenn suggests that they have one big flashback that will 
flash them all the way back to the big bang (S 172). 
Recalling much of the data, necessarily only representative, 
concerning the telling of the story, its historical, 
literary, sociological, and even biological connections to 
the past, the narrators do flashback as far as one can 
imagine or to the "big bang," the supposed beginning (S 207- 


08). But Susan points out, thinking back about the flashing 
back, "it didn't tell us where to go." Fenn has wondered 
already where they have to go in order to advance: "Key 
Island, to find my boina?" (S 247) . At Key Island, though, 
we find only another return that does not help them move 
forward. When Fenn loses his hat, Susan takes the helm: 
"Steadying the tiller then between her thighs, she sheets in 
the main, trims the genoa for beating and threads us back 
through the pots to where Fenn's hat has settled awash" (S 
24, emphasis mine). Having come back to the hat this 
"first" time, first in the present but not in the presence 
of Sabbatical, Fenn sinks it with the boat hook. Going 
back, to the supposed beginning, to Key Island, like going 
back to the "beginning," of it all, to the big bang, has not 
moved them forward, partly at least because we cannot go all 
the way back, back to beginning that is absolute. At the 
supposed beginning we encounter another reflection, another 
repetition of the thing reflected, a thing never brought to 
the surface, but pushed farther into the abyss. The history 
of the relaters, and the history of the relation, is 
reflected and "carried away" so that one cannot go back to 
the origin of the thing reflected, the "first" reflection, 
or the "thing" that was for the "first time" reflected. 

In "The Literature of Exhaustion" Barth says of Jorge 
Luis Borges in regard to "Pierre Menard, Author of the 
Quixote," "he writes a remarkable and original work of 
literature, the implicit theme of which is the difficulty, 


perhaps the unnecessity, of writing original works of 
literature. Its artistic victory, if you like, is that he 
confronts an intellectual dead end and employs it against 
itself to accomplish new human work" (FB 70) . We should 
wonder what Barth claims of Borges when he applies the word 
original because Barth also agrees with Borges' editors who 
say that "For [Borges] no one has claim to originality in 
literature; all writers are more or less faithful amanuenses 
of the spirit, translators and annotators of pre-existing 
archetypes" (FB 73). Barth deals with the contradiction 
between our connectedness to the past and the inevitability 
of difference by recalling the idea of mystical 
transcendence: "If this corresponds to what mystics do — 
'every moment leaping into the infinite,' Kierkegaard says, 
'and every moment falling surely back into the finite' — it 
is only one more aspect of that old analogy" (FB 70) . It is 
ironic, of course, that Barth explains the original by 
citing Kierkegaard, by defining another aspect of the "old 
analogy. " 

Recollecting Kierkegaard 

Kierkegaard's Repetition addresses the issue of 
origination by questioning the possibility of repetition and 
by offering the world again the Greek notion of 

The narrator of Repetition divides Greek philosophy 
from what modern philosophy will become: " repetition is a 
decisive expression for what 'recollection' was for the 


Greeks. Just as they taught that all knowledge is a 
recollection, so will modern philosophy teach that the whole 
of life is a repetition" (Kierkegaard 3) . We should not 
want to forget that Susan "backwaters to Aristotle" (s 232) 
at least twice (to distinguish lexis from melos [S 12] and 
in reading Nabokov [S 232]). Repetition and recollection 
are "the same movement" (Kierkegaard 3), but they move in 
opposite directions, so from them follow oppositional 
results. For example, "repetition makes man happy, whereas 
recollection makes him unhappy" (Kierkegaard 4) . 
Recollection begins with loss, "hence it is secure, for it 
has nothing to lose" (Kierkegaard 12) ; repetition begins 
with the possibility of gain and so at least the 
anticipation of happiness, hence it is insecure, for if 
repetition is not possible (the narrator never concedes its 
security) , then recollection is all repetition has to "look 
forward" to. The "mistake" of the poet is that he 
recollects, so stands at the supposed end (Kierkegaard 13) ; 
the narrator, who seeks the possibility of repetition, 
thinks he stands at the beginning. 

The plot of Repetition describes an "experiment" 
testing the possibility of repetition. The narrator 
actually tries to recreate events. He places himself in 
situations, such as traveling to a specific city on a 
specific train or watching a burlesque or conducting his 
servants, for a second time in order to have precisely the 
same experience he had the first time. He is repeatedly 


disappointed. That is, the most he retains is a 
recollection of events as they were. The narrator 
anticipates his result in theory at the beginning of the 
story: "the fact that [something] has been gives to 
repetition the character of novelty" (Kierkegaard 34) . 
Where can Susan go, backwatering to Aristotle through 
Nabokov? Certainly not back to Aristotle. 27 Barth shows 
us, thoroughly, that we cannot write as if the past has not 
happened but also that we cannot make it happen again : "It 
did happen: Freud and Einstein and . . . the rest. ... As 
the Russian writer Eugeny Zamyatin was already saying in the 
1920's (in his essay On Literature. Revolution, and 
Entropy) : 'Euclid's world is very simple, and Einstein's 
world is very difficult; nevertheless, it is now impossible 
to return to Euclid's" (FB 202) . As we will see later on, 
Alain Robbe-Grillet, in For a New Novel , argues the 
inevitability of novelty in modern works and in doing so 
denies the possibility of repetition in language. No matter 
the strength of the connection to an established form, he 
says, a work that follows must be considered new. Something 
has always been added and something always taken away. For 
an event to be a repetition, one event must be another — a 
contradiction in terms. 

27 Nabokov's Pale Fire illustrates as well as any 
modern novel that a text, whether "commentary" or "fiction," 
changes forever the way we read the so-called primary text, 
the "work of literature"; it denies, in fact, the 
"primariness" of any text. 


Repetition and recollection have in common their 
propensity toward idealism and toward the portrayal of the 
ideal as the achievements of the past. 28 Idealism, whether 
in terms of repetition or recollection, denies movement in 
time: "If she were to remain upon that ideal pinnacle, I 
might have to put up with it that my life, instead of 
progressing, remained stationary, in pausa " (Kierkegaard 
139) . The pause suggested by the search for the ideal is 
essentially the pause of Miller's linguistic moment. In it 
oscillates the "both-and-neither" of repetition and 
recollection. "Beginning," for example, is not possible if 
in repeating we are moving nowhere, if we are truly 
repeating. But "beginning" is the only way to think about 
something happening again . 

Repetition is a narrative. "Part First" is the first 
person account of the narrator's "experiment in psychology" 
and (at the same time) the story of his struggle with 
"philosophical" terms. "Part Second" is a series of letters 
to the narrator from the subject of his experiment with an 
introduction, a short explanatory section or renunciation of 

28 In a passage of The Tidewater Tales that will become 
important to us in terms of the questioning of history, 
Peter notes, not for the first time, that his own quixotic 
aspiration "has been to leave behind him some image as 
transcendent as his favorite four: Odysseus striving 
homeward, Scheherazade ayarning, D.Q. astride Rocinante and 
discoursing with Sancho Panza, Huck Finn rafting down the 
big Muddy. His fortieth year near run, his narrative career 
half done, P. Sagamore finds himself neither famous nor 
unknown, unsure of his accomplishment but absolutely certain 
that nothing of his invention approaches that ideal. 
Dwarfed septuply into silence (he writes) , I am a Quixote 
windmilled flat" (TT 472) . 


theory preceding the last letter, what appears to be the 
representation of a card or an envelope, which reads, "To / 

N N 1 Esq. / this book's real reader" and a 

letter addressed to "My Dear Reader" (149) . m the letter 
to the reader, which closes Repetition , the narrator says 
that it might be claimed "that there is too much philosophy 
in the book" (150-51). On the other hand, "the ordinary 
reviewer will find in this book the opportunity he desires 
to elucidate the fact that it is not a . . . novel" 
(Kierkegaard 151) . Robbe-Grillet would say, "Of course, how 
could it be either?" And Miller, "How can one renounce 
theory without theorizing?" I should have said, Repetition 
is at least a narrative, because it is a recollection, a 
history, a history about history and about history's 

In Sabbatical, Fenn wants to go back to Cacaway 
because, he says, "it'll remind us how happy we were the 
first time we sailed over there to Love Point and the 
Chester River together. To Cacaway." Susan only offers an 
indication of her skepticism: "Mm" (s 372). Fenn wants to 
go back to the place where he and Susan began their 
relationship, where they sailed as lovers for the "first 
time," in order to regain what they had before. Cacaway, 
Fenn recollects thinking then, is "WHERE IT ALL STARTED" (S 
193). Just as a title represents the location of a 
beginning in a book, Cacaway, "WHERE IT ALL STARTED," 
represents the location of a beginning in Fenn and Susan's 


relationship. But, also like a title, it cannot be come 
back to, cannot be read in the same way again for a second 
time, for time and because of time. It should be emphasized 
that Fenn anticipates recollecting, anticipates thinking 
about Cacaway in the past. At the time he thinks that this 
is the place "WHERE IT ALL STARTED," all of it had not 
happened yet. In fact, nearly none of it had. The effect 
of this anticipation is that the recollection is 
incorporated into the supposed first event. The 
"beginning," in other words, is always thought of as having 
happened already . The event or the thing that begins is 
never located in the present. At the other end, so to 
speak, because the beginning cannot be found, in the 
present, going back is found to be impossible. In the 
present is where we are, which is why Fenn " will remember 
. . . that rhyme is not repetition (the place one returns to 
is never exactly the place one left: the river flows, but 
the shore changes too, not to mention the traveler) ..." 
(S 270, emphasis mine) . The place named Cacaway is reached 
but not regained, neither is the beginning of the story. 

Repetition is narrative. The contradictoriness of that 
statement is addressed by the narrators of The Tidewater 
Tales. Musing about the enchantment that brings 
Scheherazade into the story teller's present — What you've 
done is what yo u'll do or WYDIWYD — Scheherazade says, "it 
presupposed both a past and a future, while denying their 
difference in the present" (TT 595) . Scheherazade's 


explanation would be an apt description of repetition; it 
finds in repetition the root of narrative, which, as we will 
see in the following section on history and narration, is 
the possibility of a sequence, of movement in time. 
Repetition is never absolute, which is to say that 
repetition never quite takes place. As Scheherazade's story 
teller says, "WYDIWYD pure and simple won't get you home" 
(TT 604) . He explains that it is not good dramaturgy to use 
the same enchantment for going back. But even if it were 
good dramaturgy, the enchantment will never be the same. 
Repetition is never pure and simple. WYDIWYD cannot have 
the same effect in the future as it had in the past. Though 
repetition denies the difference between the past and the 
future, difference inevitably marks itself and puts forward, 
so to speak, the narrative of repetition. 

Coming Back to Barth's Critics 

In terms of "allotropic doubling," which is thought of 
in chemistry, for example, as the existence of a thing in 
two different forms, very much like Fenn's changing shore, 
John V. Antush tries to get to the bottom and the beginning 
of the work of literature. He suggests that by "reverting" 
to and confronting a double a character can discover "the 
awesome complexity of his real identity in the world and his 
link to history in exercising his humanity to its fullest 


within the limits of that identity" (78). 29 Though Antush 
says that "real identity" is complex (probably he means that 
it is at least doubled) , it is in the world and links one to 
history. The implication of this in-the-worldness and this 
link to history is the anchoring of what is doubled. 
Though, perhaps, we cannot think of the doubled as separate 
from the double, they (it) are (is) fixed and real and part 
of a history that is, presumably, fixed and real. On the 
other hand, Barth, says Antush, acknowledges the limits of 
the "mystery of human identity" and "the limits of language 
to express it" (78) . Apparently, the real world and the 
identity of humans are at the heart of literature and at the 
heart of the allotropic double, even though language cannot 
express that relationship. 

Steven Bell seems to address a sort of speculative 
organization of texts when he says that the turning to myth 
in Lost in the Funhouse "marks an implicit recognition in 
Barth of the possibilities for infinite 'play, ' infinite 
almost repetitions or substitutions" but claims that it 
occurs "within a finite system" (88) . Outside the text, 

29 In Sabbatical , Fenn and Susan claim to know the 
truth of Aristophanes' "wonderful fancy": "that we are each 
of us the fallen moiety of a once-seamless whole" (S 332) . 
They understand themselves in terms of a past wholeness 
because they are both twins and can therefore more readily 
accept the idea of the divided self. But they claim too 
much of an understanding. They claim not to be like 
Aristophanes, doomed to seek forever and in vain for their 
missing half, but rather to "know that half supremely well" 
(S_ 332) . Their twinship cannot give them that knowledge. 
Like history, which is supposed to be reflected in the 
historical record, the textual twin is shown always to be a 
vanished twin. 


apparently, Bell places the real world. He suggests that at 
least initially Barth has hopes of "finding a role or place 
for literature in life" (87-88). 30 By anchoring repetition, 
if only "initially," perhaps especially initially, in the 
real, Bell finds for repetition a beginning and points out 
that infinity, whether an infinity of play, of repetition, 
or of substitution, cannot logically be contained within a 
"finite system." Barth agrees with Borges who notices that 
all books are part of a library which is itself endless. 31 
At the same time Barth claims that an artist may 
paradoxically turn impossibilities into a work of 
literature — "paradoxically . because by doing so he 
transcends what had appeared to be his refutation, in the 
same way that the mystic who transcends finitude is said to 
be enabled to live, spiritually and physically, in the 
finite world" (FB 71) . We have to remark the fact that 
transcendence is only said to be. The living in the finite 
cannot be considered part of the transcendental act, but 
only a contradiction of it, if what is called finite is 
truly finite. Barth is careful in what he says, but makes a 
complicated statement, and so is vulnerable to 
misinterpretation. What is transcended is always only "what 

30 It is curious that Bell cites Christopher Norris who 
speaks of "the purely linguistic problem of substitution" in 
Lost in the Funhouse , because it seems that Bell would claim 
that substitution is not purely linguistic. 

31 See Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel," 
Fictiones 29-88. 


had appeared to be." Apparent in terms of this mystical 
transcendence is the finitude of the text. 

Jean E. Kennard 's "Imitations of Imitations" is an 
attempt to take into account what she describes as Barth 's 
existentialist notion that there is no reality that can be 
apprehended by man. Kennard says that in order to remind us 
that life is as fictional as art, Barth has written "'novels 
which imitate the form of the Novel, by an author who 
imitates the role of Author'" (117). 32 There are several 
"levels" on which Kennard understands Barth' s idea of 
imitation. "On the simplest level Barth is talking of 
parody. . . . [S]ince any work of art is an imitation, in 
the sense of being an imitation of life, any work of art 
which parodies another is an imitation of an imitation" 
(Kennard 117) . The imitation of "life" would seem to be 
excluded a priori from a theory of literature that excludes 
the apprehension of reality and that treats life as another 
fiction. Though Kennard calls parody the "simplest" form of 
imitation, it grounds all of her theory of repetition in the 
possibility of absolute origin. The most complex level of 
Kennard 's idea of imitation is contained in the question of 
self-conscious art and self-reflection: "Barth says he is an 
author imitating the role of author. In Giles Goat-Boy 
there is a writer, J.B., who is presenting a novel about 
Giles, but there is also, of course, a novelist, John Barth, 

32 A quotation of Barth 's "The Literature of 
Exhaustion" (FB 72) . 


who is writing about J.B. writing about Giles. . . . 
[T]here could be another John Barth playing the role of John 
Barth, novelist, writing about John Barth, who is writing 
about Giles. ... An endless progression of illusions is 
possible" (118) . Barth 's work does suggest the possibility 
of, as he says in "The Literature of Exhaustion," the 
" regressus in infinitum " — the narrator who claims to be the 
author of the work the narrator is in is a version of that 
regression. But Kennard does not seem to be convinced by 
her own argument: "The Post Tape, which invalidates all the 
previous tapes, comes at the end of the novel. As J.B. . 
Barth then points out in a Postscript the internal evidence 
against the Post tape's authenticity . . . " (131, emphasis 
mine) . Though she explains that the novel "inflicts upon 
the reader the inability to establish anything for certain" 
(131) , Kennard seems to have established the origin of the 
supposedly infinite reflection: "Barth" writes "as J.B." 

No matter that an endless progression of illusions is 
possible , Kennard finds at the beginning or the bottom of 
the work, the author, not simply the name of the author, but 
the real-life person. The origin, though, is always born 

The claim of authorship (all of Barth 's narrators claim 
to be the author of the works they narrate) makes 
problematic the time of writing. To write "I am doing this 
now" or "I will write this down" claims that the act of 
writing is in the present or the future, but the "now" or 


the "future" is contradicted by the text that is read in the 
present. 33 "I will write this down" has always already been 
written down. We cannot place what is called the author 
outside this re ression. The capacity of "the author" to 
fix an origin is born away with "the author's" connection to 
the narration of the work. So an author's speaking "as" a 
narrator or "coming into" a work is never, precisely 
speaking, the case. "It is well known," says Michel 
Foucault in his much cited essay "What is an Author," "that 
in a novel narrated in the first person, neither the first 
person pronoun, the present indicative tense, nor, for that 
matter, its signs of localization refer directly to the 
writer, either to the time when he wrote, or to the specific 
act of writing ...» (129). Authors do not speak as 
narrators. The opposite, in fact, would better describe the 
claim of authorship and the regression it suggests: though 
authors do not speak as narrators, narrators can speak as 
authors. Fenn and Susan, speaking in Sabbatical , make this 
point clear. 

In at least two instances Fenn and Susan suggest that 
they allow "the author" to speak for them, implying the 
author's presence, but then they force us to conclude that 
the author is not present, that the narrators only speak as 
if thev were the author. Fenn and Susan want the reader to 
know about John Arthur Paisley, but scholarly Susan is 

33 For a linguistic description of this phenomenon, see 
Ducrot and Todorov on Shifters. 


afraid it would be a breach of verisimilitude for them to 
discuss what they already know, what goes without saying 
between them: 

Fenn ponders, then suggests Suppose the author 
does it straight out, instead of putting it into 
the characters' mouths? . . . [W]e can come in as 
author and give the reader a spot of briefing as 
needed. Right? 

Susan guesses so, if we do it adroitly. 
Otherwise it's Author intrusion. (S 85) 

Fenn suggests that having the author speak "straight out" is 

having someone other than the characters speaking. They 

will have the author say what they want us to know instead 

of saying it themselves. But he also makes this sort of 

narration ambiguous: it is the characters, who are also the 

narrators, that will "come in" and speak "as author." If 

the characters are speaking (as, as anyone) , they should not 

be thought of as "coming in" because they are already in. 

It is the author who would need to come in, if he were to 

speak. The coming in of the author is never more than a 

coming back to the narrators. 

When Susan says "Your ship, author," she seems to 

introduce a third narrator or an author who is present. And 

the "Thank you," which begins a new paragraph, usually 

indicating a new speaker, would seem to be spoken by someone 

other than Fenn and Susan. The suggestion is that the 

author takes over, gratefully, and begins to speak for Fenn 

and Susan. But that is not the case. As the Baltimore Sun , 

which is used to summarize the Paisley case, is cited, it is 

"we" who quote, a plural narrator, the voice of Fenn and 


Susan as author. At the close of the quotation, Susan 
questions Fenn, not the author, about the quotation's 

At Fenn's suggestion that they recap their dreams and 
flash back to the big bang, "Practical Susan says I say 
leave it to the author" (S 2 06), and following three points 
of ellipses centered on the line (it is the only page break 
of its kind in Sabbatical ) the story and the point of view 
appear to shift: 

• • B 

Done? Okay? Well! Hum! Why, that's some 
tall order, Susan, Fenni Probably impossible; 
certainly improbable; unlikely as our having 
shared a dream in the first place. . . . (S 2 07) 

The appearance of the shift in voice is clear. It is a 

reply to Fenn and Susan, specifically to Susan's suggestion 

that the author narrate. But to whom does "our" refer? It 

was Fenn and Susan who shared a dream. The author, supposed 

or real, had no part in the plot of that particular story. 

After the flashing back, Susan reasserts their position as 


I think the author did okay, Susan says. That was 
some fleshbeck. My hat is off to us. Well done, 
us. (S 209) 

Sabbatical illustrates that the search for an author within 

the text will always bring one back to the question of 

narration, never to an author who is the author, who is 

outside the text, and could therefore help us locate the 

origin or the beginning of a repetition. 

History and the Sequeling of Narration 

The question of authorship in connection to the history 
of a text and to a text as narrative follows (in a sense) 
from the difficulty of locating the origin of a repetition. 
In what follows I will concern myself with the narrative 
relation between texts, between The Tidewater Tales and Don 
Quixote (and between The Tidewater Tales and Sabbatical ) , to 
discover what a narrative can tell us about the history of a 
text relative to its author and about looking at a text 
"historically. " 

What follows here will not begin with the question of 
historical truth, though it will, by necessity, encompass 
that problem. Rather, I will ask, What follows from the 
questioning of truth in history and in narrative. What 
happens next, after one asks, "Is this book telling the 
truth? How much of this book is true? What of this book 
can be verified by the historical record?" 

Barth's readers have been asking these sorts of 
questions about all of his books, since he wrote The Sot- 
Weed Factor , a story written out of, so to speak, the poem 
of that name, authored by Ebenezer Cooke and published in 
1708, and the Archives of Maryland 34 as well as other 
"historical" documents, such as William Byrd's "Secret 
Historie of the Dividing Line" and John Smith's "Generall 
Historie of Virginia." Alan Holder seems to find it 


See Diser 52-58, and Holder 596, 599 


disturbing that "Barth has taken some liberties with the 
historical records" and calls Barth' s play "intellectual 
frivolity" (603), implying not only the priority of the real 
but also the certainty of the historical. Philip E. Diser 
comparing Barth' s book to "data" found in historical records 
(49) illustrates Barth 's quotation from the work of "the 
real Ebenezer Cooke" (52) , and concludes, "Certainly, as 
Richard Kostalentz has said, Barth 's novel is a mockery of 
written history, but it is mockery within an accurate 
framework" (58) . Diser wants us to understand Barth not as 
a failure because of his historical "impurity" but as 
brilliant and original and in touch with the truth about 
history. It is telling to point out that the criticism 
subsequent to Holder and Diser, though based on the 
assumption that "written history" should not be accepted "as 
unadulterated fact" (Ewell 33) , nevertheless clings to the 
possibility of historical accuracy. Though Barbara Ewell 
says that "any scheme imposed on the past must somehow be 
inadequate" (43) and that an "attempt to fix the past still" 
will be accompanied by "the aura of mental construction and 
distortion," she also claims that "the imagined past in 
Barth impinges on the reality it supposedly elucidates and 
achieves a measure of reality in its own right" (46) . Ewell 
is trying to cope with what Barth has called, in the 
"Literature of Exhaustion," "a real piece of imagined 
reality." To "imagine reality" or "invent history" is not 
to create something real but to make reality — the term, the 


concept — problematic. Michael Hinden claims that with Lost 

in the Funhouse "Barth challenges the writers and critics of 

contemporary fiction to cut the coils that bind them to the 

recent past. But that same past, as Lost in the Funhouse 

paradoxically demonstrates, already has furnished Barth with 

new materials for art ..." (116). The question that 

should concerns us is by what measure the past can be 

considered "the same" in its use in the creation of art. 

Arguing against Holder and the idea of a pure history, Linda 

S. Bergmann asserts that "play is an appropriate treatment 

of history if it is as ambiguous as Barth shows it to be 

..." (36). The more artificially the novelist organizes 

the past, Bergmann says, "the less we will be inclined to 

mistake the structure necessary for art for the hidden truth 

of history." Though she argues against the possibility of 

discovering truth in history, Bergmann nevertheless 

distinguishes history from story: 

Any particular story will be the selection of a 
few strands of the infinite web of history, and 
will resist isolation as truth, unless the Author 
conceals its arbitrariness. 

Barth 's few strands of history and his cupfull 
of story take the form of a comedy. . . . (36) 

The distinction between history and story is confusing 

because the only thing Bergmann leaves us by which to 

distinguish history from story is the capacity for telling 

the truth, which she has already discounted. 

None of Barth 's critics has been able to completely 

shed the burden of truth telling in describing narrative's 

connection to history. Even in describing the problem of 


the idea of truth in history or historical fact, readers 
still cling to the hope of its possibility. 

In describing what follows in narration, in a text we 
would call a narrative, we should be careful not to get 
caught up in the guestion of historical truth so that we 
will not reconfirm the possibility of truth in history and 
also so that we can deal thoroughly with the guestionina of 

Peter Sagamore, in The Tidewater Tales , is interested 

in what he calls the most mysterious episode in Don Quixote , 

"the one wherein Don Quixote lowered himself by rope into 

the spooky Cave of Montesinos in La Mancha and is hauled up 

sound asleep half an hour later and awakened only with 

difficulty" (TT 388) , because it brings into guestion, 

without answering the guestion, the truth of the story: 

What is singular about the episode, in Peter 
Sagamore's opinion is that of all the Knight's 
encounters with the apparently marvelous, this is 
the only one unrefuted by reality . It is never 
accounted for, and though nothing in the plot 
turns upon it, Quixote clings to his belief in it 
to the end. (TT 338, emphasis mine) 

In deciding how to read Peter's term "refutation by reality" 

it will be helpful to turn to Don Quixote . In Chapter XXIV, 

the one following the Cave of Montesinos chapter, the 

narrator gives us a marginal note made by the book's "first 

author," Cide Hamete Benengeli, which says in part, 

"so if this adventure seems apocryphal, it is not 
I that am to blame, for I write it down without 
affirming its truth or falsehood. You, judicious 
reader, must judge for yourself, for I cannot and 
should not do more. One thing, however, is 
certain, that finally [Don Quixote] retracted it 


on his death-bed and confessed that he had 
invented it, since it seemed to him to fit in with 
the adventures he had read of in his histories." 

Apparently, assuming Peter has not overlooked this passage, 

"refutation by reality" is not the same as refutation by 

Cide Hamete Benengeli. Cide Hamete cannot, of course, be 

considered the book's "real" author. He has no life outside 

the text and so cannot determine the truth of a story told 

by a character within the text. The narrator, though, is in 

a similar position. The narrator offers us Hamete's 

marginalia, suggesting that he (the narrator) is outside the 

realm of the fiction narrated, but the narrator cannot be 

considered part of the real world either. If Don Quixote 

were to confess the fictional ity of the Montesinos story on 

his deathbed (in Don Quixote there is no such confession; 

there is only the marginal report of a confession) , it would 

be similarly ineffective in establishing the truth of the 

story. Can Don Quixote be considered more truthful or more 

real then Cide Hamete? The answer has to be no. The 

reality Peter speaks of cannot be considered the absolutely 

real but is rather another fiction within Don Quixote . 

Nevertheless, Peter seems to rest the connection to the 

real, which he supposes is lacking in Part Two of Don 

Quixote , in the narrator. 

The yielding of reality in Part Two, Peter notes, 

sustains the fiction of Don Quixote, and it is the 

appearance of that yielding and that sustaining which 

prompts Peter to write "Part One of a Possible Three-Part 


Don Quixote Story," in large part about Don Quixote's 

adventures in the Cave of Montesinos. Part of the problem 

with Peter's idea of "refutation by reality" is that it 

assumes, as Peter seems to elsewhere, that the author can 

speak in his work and separate fact from fiction: 

Let Don Quixote rest in peace, Cervantes warns in 
his last chapter: Do not presume to resurrect or 
disinter him. But it is fact, not fiction, that 
Story overtook a few days back off the Thomas 
Point Light: Rocinante IV . . . . (TT 472) 

Peter's story (the story of Peter) cannot, of course, be 

considered fact; he is in The Tidewater Tales . And 

"Cervantes," in Don Quixote , is also a part of the fiction 

narrated. The narrator is not Cervantes speaking in the 

book but rather a narrator speaking as Cervantes. Peter in 

The Tidewater Tales is very much like the narrator in Don 

Quixote because he is a narrator claiming authorship of the 

work he narrates. Peter could not actually write "Part One 

of a Possible Three-Part Don Quixote Story," but as a 

character he could write Part One of that story, which is 

described by "Part One of a Possible Three-Part Don Quixote 

Story." Following "Part Two" the narrator says outright 

"Peter Sagamere has not written the foregoing sentences. 

But shamelessly, possessedly, he has logged notes upon this 

unfinished possible Don Quixote story ..." (TT 493). 

One difference between The Tidewater Tales and Don 

Quixote is that The Tidewater Tales points out explicitly 

the problem of narrating writing. Peter's story marks the 

fictionality of Don Quixote and the difficulty of writing a 


book from within. Don Quixote receives a sign from "the 

Enchanter himself," 

the all-seeing Moorish historian Cide Hamete 
Benengeli, author of The Ingenious Gentleman Don 
Quixote of La Mancha . The Moor has published Part 
One; Quixote himself, like all of Europe, has read 
it. He will now be in midst of setting down Part 
Two, whereof the Knight's every present action is, 
as it were, a sentence. 

Don Quixote strokes his beard. Don Quixote 
steadies himself with his stick. Don Quixote 
seats himself in the skiff's stern and waits to 
see what Don Quixote will do next. (TT 474) 

Cide Hamete Benengeli is spoken of by Peter and Don Quixote, 

and speaks of himself in Don Quixote , as a historian . The 

implication is, of course, that Don Quixote can read about 

his real life as it is recorded in the history written by 

Cide Hamete. The problem with the history is two-fold: 

writing in the present denies the reality of the thing 

written about and thus its "historical" significance, and 

(partly for that reason) the "historian" is not to be 


Peter uses the present tense in his example of the 
equation of writing and narration ("Don Quixote strokes his 
beard . . .") to illustrate the "yielding of reality"; if 
every present action were a sentence, then "reality" would 
seem to be the thing written. But narrating in the present 
tense is not writing in the present, nor is it being in the 
present. The time of the writing is always the past. One 
reads what has already been written. 

Not far into Peter's illusion of Cide Hamete 's writing- 
in-the-present does the "present action" of Don Quixote turn 


upon, as it follows and follows from , an action written in 

the past and described as having been: 

A further happy thought occurs to him: He gave 
Dulcinea's serving -maid four reales because, 
though she had asked for six, four was all he 
possessed. Now he has the other two. (TT 474-75) 

My point in quoting this passage is not that a story will 

contain the past tense or that it will refer to a past 

action but rather that it will indicate that the time of 

writing is that of the past and that the situation of the 

writer as having been will mark itself somewhere in the 

text. When Don Quixote scans the table of contents of Part 

Two he finds his story "followed by others unfamiliar to 

him"; in other words, he finds that the text of his "life" 

has already been written. 

In Writing Degree Zero . Roland Barthes describes 

narration in the context of the narrative past, the 

preterite. Its function, he says, is no longer that of a 


the preterite, which is the cornerstone of 
Narration, Always signifies the presence of Art; 
it is a part of a ritual of Letters. . . . 
Allowing as it does an ambiguity between 
temporality and causality, it calls for a sequence 
of events, that is, for an intelligible Narrative. 
This is why it is the ideal instrument for every 
construction of a world; it is the unreal time of 
cosmogenies, myths, History and Novels. (39) 

No longer functioning as a tense, the preterite points out 

that it is part of a constructed world: "Behind the 

preterite there always lurks a demiurge, a God or a reciter" 

(Barthes 30) . 


In their Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Sciences of 
Language , Oswald Ducrot and Tzvetan Todorov explain that, 
independent of grammatical tenses, there are problems of 
temporality that can make simplifying the narrative seguence 
of a discourse difficult. For our purposes, it is enough to 
show that the difference between "writing time" and "story 
time" is significant. According to Ducrot and Todorov, 
particular efforts have been made to describe the writing of 
these two times: "sometimes this temporality of writing is 
in turn represented — the book relates not only a story but 
the story of the book itself" (320) . Sabbatical and The 
Tidewater Tales , and to some extent Don Quixote , are 
examples of the attempt to represent the temporality of 
writing. "In the simplest case," Ducrot and Todorov say, 
each temporal system moves "in the same direction, in a 
perfectly parallel course." The problem with this ideal is 
that "the narrative has its own reguirements, which are not 
those of the so-called reality." The parallelism will be 
broken (1) by inversions wherein some events are reported 
earlier than others that are nonetheless chronologically 
anterior and (2) by embedded stories wherein the story is 
interrupted to begin a second and then possibly a third and 
so on (Ducrot and Todorov 320) . Though Ducrot and Todorov 
do not summarize any contention that the breaking of the 
ideal parallelism between writing time and story time is 
necessary , indeed, they seem to indicate the possibility of 
an ideal parallelism, it is my argument that the ideal is 


never achieved. What has been called "writing time" (I have 

called it the time of writing) is never absolutely parallel 

to "story time," to the time of the narrative or the 

narration. Even when the co-presence of the time of writing 

and the time of narration appears to be undisturbed, the 

seguentiality of the narrative will inscribe a preteritive 


In order to explain the necessity of a preteritive 

effect, we should take some time to reaffirm the connection 

between seguentiality and narration. In their Encyclopedia 

Ducrot and Todorov have described concisely what, since 

Propp and Levi-Strauss, students of literature have taken 

for granted about narrative: 

The narrative is a referential text in which 
temporality is represented. The unit higher than 
the proposition that can be located in narrative 
is the sequence, which is constituted by a group 
of at least three propositions. Contemporary 
narrative analyses inspired by Propp 's study of 
folk tales and Levi-Strauss 's study of myths agree 
that in every minimal narrative it is possible to 
identify two attributes — related but different — of 
at least one agent and a process of transformation 
or mediation, which allows passage from one 
attribute to the other. (297) 

If seguentiality defines a narrative and thereby demands the 

representation of temporality in narration, a narrative will 

always entail the effect of the preterite. Barthes says 

that the operation of the preterite "occurs constantly in 

the whole of Western art" (33) . (Barthes excludes "a 

certain Chinese tradition" which makes as the goal of art 

the perfect imitation of reality, [Barthes, Writing Degree 

Zero 34]. I will claim later on that the effect of the 


preterite occurs in all texts that question the truth.) If 
the statements are organized according to a sequence, even 
if the statements are made in the present tense ("Don 
Quixote strokes his beard. Don Quixote steadies himself 
with his stick."), the pastness of one situation in relation 
to the other will establish itself and will reflect the 
pastness of the writing. A parallelism between the time of 
writing and the time of narration can never be maintained. 
Strictly speaking, in a narrative the time of writing is 
never the time of the story or the narration of the story. 

When Don Quixote loses his boat and is swept under by 
the river at the bottom of the Cave of Montesinos, he begins 
to question the historical ity, and thus the trustworthiness, 
of his enchanter; Don Quixote has a "vision of the Moor in 
whom he has so misplaced his trust, now calmly inscribing — 
in beautiful, heartless Arabic — the sentence Thus end s Part 
Two of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha" (TT 
477) . The implication of Don Quixote's misplacing his trust 
is that his trust is better placed elsewhere. Where then? 
In Cervantes? We will see in the following that the author 
should never be considered the repository of the truth. 

In Peter's Part Two, Don Quixote recants his lack of 
faith, because he finds himself still alive, continuing in 
his Part Two: "it's to my Moorish enchanter that I owe both 
my peril and my rescue" (TT 481) . But still equivocal about 
his origin as he sets out again, now in search of the one to 
whom his greatest debt is owed, "he somehow understood that 


the Cide Hamete Benengeli is no less a fiction than Don 
Quixote de la Mancha, the Knight of Doleful Aspect" (TT 
487) . Though he seems to understand that he is part of the 
text and that his "historian" is a narrator who is also a 
part of the text, Don Quixote is offended when he chances 
upon someone reading a translation of "Parts I & II — not by 
the Cide Hamete Benengeli, but by . . . Miguel de Cervantes 
Saavedra" (TT 488) . Don Quixote cannot readily abandon his 
belief in the reality of history and in the factual- 
historical nature of the text. Both the reality of history 
and the factual-historical nature of the text are anchored, 
so to speak, in the reality and the stability and the 
singularity of the author. To come upon a "second author" 
is to disrupt both the reality of the "first" and the system 
upon which the reality of the "second" might be based. Don 
Quixote's defence of his enchanter is another claim for the 
historical accuracy of the text written about him: 

The circumstance that Benengeli is not a Christian 
does not license his history to be sold under 
false authorship or imitated and extended without 
his authorization. The clerk amused, replies that 
there have in fact been such imitations and false 
sequels; indeed, that it was the true author's 
indignation at one such that prompted Part Two of 
the book in hand, a full decade after the great 
success of Part One. But the perpetrator of that 
false sequel was not Hamete Benengeli, for that 
admirable Moor is as much a figment of great 
Cervantes 's imagination as are Sancho Panza and 
Don Quixote himself. (TT 488) 

Though the "true" author writes a Part Two in order to 

establish a sequel that is true or that in some way conveys 

the truth about its author, it is the following of Part Two 


that marks it as false, that indicates the second part as a 

falsification of what was written before. Don Quixote's 

scanning the table of contents confirms that the second part 

includes episodes he thought would measure its factual ity, 

episodes he understood as having occurred . but finds also 

that Part Two contains episodes unfamiliar to him, including 

his return to La Mancha and his death there. He questions 

again, but again only provisionally, his own reality: 

The Knight (he scarcely now thinks of himself as 
one) is perplexed, the more so because, 
unaccountable, those unfamiliar chapter titles 
seem right to him, even the mention of his death. 
But now he hears the clerk speak of the book as 
the greatest novel ever written, and concludes 
that its second part must be a work of fiction 
extrapolated from the true history of Part One: an 
ingenious if somewhat high-handed idea. 
Remembering his long and painfully consequential 
enchantment by novels of chivalry, he pronounces 
it a reckless thing indeed to confuse the boundary 
between life and art. All the same, he buys the 
book in order to see how this Cervantes fellow 
measures up beside the errorless Moor. (TT 489) 

Upon rereading Parts One and Two Don Quixote changes his 

notion of his own situation and comes to read his life as 

one would a narrative. Whereas "formerly he marveled at how 

accurately , in Part One, "Hamete Benengeli recorded his and 

Sancho's early adventures" and "how skillfully , from the 

Montesinos incident on, this Miguel de Cervantes spins out a 

convincing alternative to the truth: as if he really had 

been hoisted out of that cave and gone on with that story," 

now "so seamless is the transition from history to fiction, 

so persuasive the narrative, that these later adventures of 

'Don Quixote,' ending in his death in La Mancha, seem to him 


the real story, far more plausible than what has actually 
happened since Chapter XXII" (TT 491, emphasis mine) . The 
distance between historical "accuracy" and narrative "skill" 
no longer seems to Don Quixote so great; "Indeed, after 
several rereadings, Part One also strikes him as a splendid 
and amusing fiction, he reads it neither more nor less 
spellbound than any other later-middle-aged reader — and 
identifies neither more nor less with its hero" (TT 491) . 

Peter Sagamere and Don Quixote, like Barth's critics, 
have questioned, though hesitantly, the possibility of truth 
telling in history and thereby the distinction between 
history and narration. 35 It is essential to understand that 
their position within the narrative keeps the characters and 
the narrators from determining the accuracy of what has been 
called the historical record. The record, according to its 
function as the repository of truth, must remain somewhere 
outside the narrative and this is why it is never there, 
never here, in the present. Peter names his stories after 
(in the name of and following) Don Quixote's horse 

35 Theorists, such as Roland Barthes and more recently 
Paul Ricoeur, have shown us the dangers of casually 
distinguishing between history and the narrative. Barthes 
says, in Writing Degree Zero , that narration is a form 
common to both the novel and to history. The question of 
truth in the use of the preterite, which is essential to 
narration, is indeterminate: "[the preterite] delineates an 
area of plausibility which reveals the possible in the very 
act of unmasking it as false" (Barthes 32) . According to 
Ricoeur, "the inserting of history into action," which is 
the operation of narration, "brings into play the question 
of truth in history. This question is inseparable from what 
I call the interweaving reference between history's claim to 
truth and that of fiction" (92) . 


Rocinante. He is reminded of the Cave of Montesinos 
episode, in Don Quixote , its centrality to Don Quixote , on 
seeing a boat named Rocinante IV hailing from Montesinos. 
Peter's three possible stories correspond to the three 
Rocinante 's he imagines Don Quixote sailing in (and out of) 
the Cave of Montesinos: " Rocinante II ." the story of and the 
broken down fishing skiff Don Quixote sails on the Guadiana 
and the Ebro rivers between the Cave of Montesinos and the 
Island of Barataria; " Rocinante III ." the story of and the 
"pleasure craft" provisioned and named by the duke and 
duchess of Barataria and sailed single-handedly by Don 
Quixote out of the Ebro to Lisbon; and " Rocinante IV ," the 
title never given to the story, which is only partly told, 
about the boat with which Don Quixote sails to America and 
into The Tidewater Tales . 

Part One's being named "Rocinante II" is indicative of 
the following of the story, which is the segueling of 
narration, and the absence of history. " Rocinante II " is 
named after Rocinante, but Rocinante is neither historical 
(in the sense being grounded factually) nor is it the 
original. Rocinante is (this almost goes without saying 
now) part of a narrative that cannot anchor itself 
historically. Furthermore, which is to say the same thing 
in another way, Rocinante is not a story but within a story: 
there is no " Rocinante I ." In a sense, Part One of Peter's 
possible three part story is not the first part but the 
recognition of the absence of the origin, the absence of the 


historical record, the absence not simply of the past, but 
of what we have come to call history . 36 

What follows? What comes after the conclusion that 
what comes before is not history but the absence of history? 
In Peter's Part Two Don Quixote stares out to sea and 
rereads Don Quixote . "[H]e finds himself telling his whole 
story" to a young American writer he meets, "just as Peter 
Sagamore will one day write it down" (TT 49) . It is implied 
that this American is a Huckleberry Finn, who, like Don 
Quixote, "has strayed . . . out of a great novel, as it 
were. . . . Having . . . rafted chapter after chapter down 
certain North American waterways, at a certain pass he lit 
out for the Territory, so to speak, rather than return to 
his starting place at the voyage's end" (TT 492-93) . It is 
also suggested that the American is Peter Sagamore, who will 
write the story down, who has floated in The Tidewater 
Tales , not out of it, toward the telling of his three-part 
story. Huck Finn could not explain to Don Quixote that 
single-handing it across the Atlantic is now made possible 
by the advancement of technology: "he is resolved now to 
equip himself to do what until meeting the American he would 
scarcely have deemed possible: aboard some fourth Rocinante, 
in quest of nothing but the having done it, to sail alone 
from the old world to the new" (TT 493). To be in quest of 

36 Holder speaks of a "relative lack of history" (601) 
describing a character's lack of information about his past. 
I am claiming an absence that is fundamental to one's 
situation in a narrative. 


"nothing but the having done it" is doubly consequential for 
the making of a narrative. First of all it is an indication 
of the lack of goal centeredness of narration. Don Quixote 
has just explained to "the American" that "you need only the 
most general notion of your destination" (TT 492) . What 
follows will be a narrative . It is also the quest to place 
a thing in the past, in other words to make it possible for 
a narration to occur, to give the story a time on which to 
base a sequence and a sequel. As Don Quixote and the 
American prepare to depart, "Their handshake turns into a 
proper abrazo , and then — first apparently from the 
American's far-off birth waters, then as it seems from right 
inside his narrative head — comes an insistent beeping that 
the young man realizes he's been hearing for some time: 
Beep-beep-beep, beeep beeep beeep, beep-beep-beep" (TT 493) . 
The story the narrator of The Tidewater Tales says will be 
written has already been written and thereby calls for 
something to follow, a narrative. Following that beeping, 
in The Tidewater Tales , another story under another title, 
which again brings to the fore the temporal nature of 

Peter is roused, like Don Quixote after his being 
hauled up from the Cave of Montesinos, not to a view of the 
world as it was or is, the so-called real world, but to the 
time of narration, to the recognition that what follows will 


be a narrative — because it establishes a sequence and 
establishes the narrative as a sequel. 

Part Three of Peter's possible three part story is 
never named "Rocinante IV." That name is only suggested by 
the sequential ity of the other two. Being without the title 
that comes next follows from our being told only " Part of 
Part Three of that Possible Three-Part Don Quixote Story" 
(TT 520, emphasis mine). The story is not yet, within The 
Tidewater Tales , finished being told. That is why Peter's 
story is only a "possibility." If the time of writing is 
the already, the time of narration is the following and the 
not yet. The text is always already written but not yet 

Captn Don ("Donald Quicksoat" is what they call Don 

Quixote in America in the 1980 's) narrates "Part of Part 

Three," bringing himself into relation with Cervantes and 

with the author: 

Now I figured I'd singlehand it to the end of the 
story, like Cervantes himself. . . . Now, if our 
friends here 37 were telling this part, they'd have 
me set out in search of Cervantes himself this 
time, to square my biggest debt of all. . . . But 
... I reckoned that Cervantes owed me as much as 
I owed him. Anyhow, we characters sometimes get 
loose of our authors. ... I understood that I 
was my own gosh darn Cervantes. The passenger who 
is also the skipper , he says directly to Peter 
Sagamore — who nods and at once replies, also in 
italics: The Skipper who is also the passenger . 
(TT 520-21) 

We have seen that the questioning of truth in a narrative as 

well as the impossibility of answering questions about truth 

37 A reference to Peter and Katherine. 


in narratives follows from the illusion of a narrator's also 

being the author (and vise versa) . Captn Don seems to 

understand that the narrator of Don Quixote is not 

Cervantes, but rather another Cervantes so to speak. Though 

Captn Don claims to be the skipper as well as the passenger, 

the author as well as the character, he does not claim to be 

Cervantes, but rather his "own Cervantes." This claim, like 

Peter's, is an equivocal one — Captn Don claims authorship 

without claiming to be the author. But the equivocation is 

less a lack of precision than a necessity of the illusion. 

Reading The Tidewater Tales after Sabbatical we will 

have noticed, as we have in reading the relation between The 

Tidewater Tales and Don Quixote , that the sequel ing of 

narration follows from the questioning of truth, of the 

origin of the work, and therefore from the claim of 

authorship. When we read, in The Tidewater Tales , about 

some of the characters (or, perhaps, the sequels of some of 

the characters) of Sabbatical , their connection to the story 

that came before The Tidewater Tales seems to turn on the 

questioning of historical fact. There is no doubt that in 

The Tidewater Tales the characters and their situations bear 

a strong resemblance to those in Sabbatical : 

This was the hopeful scene (we have learned) that 
Frank and Lee Talbott found upon the successful 
completion, just last week, of this blue-water 
passage from the Virgin Islands to the Virginia 
capes and Chesapeake Bay. What was more, Carla's 
formidable intuitions told her that Professor Leah 
Allan Silver Talbott, now thirty-five, was 
pregnant at last, for the first time, by her 
strapping fifty-year-old husband! But there'd 
been a cloud upon their childlessness, so C.B.S. 


divined a cloud upon this belated early pregnancy, 
which she sensed had in fact not yet even been 
acknowledged between the parents. (TT 352) 

One cannot help wondering, and in fact we are led to wonder, 

why, if these are the same characters, if Frank and Lee and 

Carla are Fenn and Susan and Carmen, and if their story is 

the story of Sabbatical , why the names are different in The 

Tidewater Tales . Though in our critical sophistication we 

have come to regard names as significant matter for 

interpretation, as significant as the "facts," some of the 

details that have been "changed" do indeed seem 

insignificant. Why, for instance, would Fenn's son become 

Frank's daughter (TT 405) . Nothing consequential in the 

plot of The Tidewater Tales seems to turn upon that detail — 

except perhaps the turning of details, which points out the 

sequential ity of the narrative. 

When Peter and Katherine remeet Frank and Lee, they 

confront the changing of names as they tell each other their 

stories and the stories about their stories, which they are 

working on now, and thereby give us a way of dealing with 

sequeling stories: "I warned you I'd get personal," Lee 

says, after attempting an explanation about her and Frank's 

relationship and their childlessness. "Invites Peter Don't 

worry: I'll change all the names. Frank Talbott says 

nevermind the names; he wishes he could change some of the 

facts" (TT 411) . Because they occur within the story, the 

f actuality of the "facts" is already in question. But Peter 

complicates the matter. If Peter changes the names in his 


story as Frank changed the names in his, Frank and Lee can 

be considered no more factual than Fenn and Susan and just 

as subject to question as Peter and Katherine . The names, 

the details, have always already been "changed," which is 

why "changed" is not quite the right word. Explaining to 

Peter and Katherine about his shortcomings as a writer of 

fiction, Frank tells them about the novel he tried but 

failed to write on the sabbatical voyage. 

I turned Rick Talbott into "Manfred Turner," 
because Doug Townshend called him the Prince of 
Darkness after Byron's Count Manfred. Lee and I 
were "Fenwick Turner" and "Susan Seckler." He 
smiles at her. Black eyed Susan, right? My idea 
of the art of fiction was to make her and "Mimi" 
twin sisters and Fenn and Manfred twin brothers. 
(TT 413-14) 

Is this attempted novel Sabbatical ? Yes and no. Yes, it is 

a reference to that story. As Fenn does in Sabbatical . 

Frank speaks as if he were the author of that work. And no, 

it is not Sabbatical but a book not yet written (its 

"working title," Frank says, "was Reprise " [TT 414]). This 

contradiction is contained within Sabbatical too. As we 

have seen, Fenn and Susan claim all along the way that the 

book they are, in the present, writing and telling has not 

been written. This writing without having written is the 

illusion that must be maintained in any text in which a 

character or narrator claims to be the author. 

The problem with the claim of authorship, and according 

to Frank, the problem with his story, is that it turns upon 

the question of truth and the f actuality of the story's 



What I had in mind, Frank Talbott goes on, was 
forks and confluences in people's lives. . . . 
Lee and I first bumped into each other at the 
literal fork of the Wye River, right down the road 
there, but that's another story. 

At least I wanted it to be another story. (TT 

In other words, he wanted the story to be fiction, but it 

turned out to be nonfiction, like his Kubark expose. Peter 

confirms this division ("The art of the nonfiction expose is 

not the art of the novel") , but does not maintain the purity 

of the categories. Frank says about his story, "what it was 

was long faced confessional melodrama. For example, would 

you put a spiel like this one into a novel? Of course you 

wouldn't. . . . Peter shrugs his eyebrows" (TT 113, 114). 

Frank's spiel has, of course, made it into a book, of which 

Peter claims, though provisionally, to be the author. 

Similarly, the story of " Reprise " has made it into 

Sabbatical . Neither the books nor the claims of authorship 

are in danger of being "confused with reality" because they 

continually disrupt the division between the "fictive" world 

of narration and the "factual" world of the expose or the 

historical record on which questions about a text's 

factual ity are based. 

The story at hand is always another story, a story that 

comes after, a story that follows. If we were not led to 

wonder about what looks like the changing of names and of 

"facts," The Tidewater Tales would not point out as clearly 

the sequel ing of narration and the disruption of notions 

based on the reality of the origin of the text. 


We are led to believe that Sabbatical , or more 
precisely, the story of Sabbatical, is taking place within 
The Tidewater Tales . Lee has her abortion in the present 
tense of The Tidewater Tales . But the illusion of the co- 
presence of the texts does not take into consideration the 
writing of either book, the writing that has already 
occurred. Peter asserts "that if he were setting about to 
write the new novel that Franklin Key Talbott has just been 
discussing . . . with him, inspired by Reprise 's Caribbean 
cruise, he would turn both the Silver sisters and the 
Talbott brothers into twins: twin twins. 38 And he'd shorten 
the voyage from a year down to nine months. . . . But he'd 
begin the story in the last two weeks of the ninth month, 
when the couple reenter the Chesapeake Bay. And he'd frame 
it with the loss and recovery of the magic boina . Shut me 
up, Kath! It's not my novel" (TT 557). One thing a passage 
such as this one does, coming after the writing of the story 
talked about as not yet written, is to point out that no one 
within the novel has a claim to its ownership by virtue of 
having created it because it is already written . In reply 
to Peter's statement, we are led to declare that it is not 
Frank's novel either. 

We might come to view the illusion of the "presence" of 
the story of Sabbatical as a reprise within a reprise. 
Peter and Katherine's remeeting of Frank and Lee in The 

38 p e ter appears to have forgotten that Frank claims to 
have already made this adjustment. 


Tidewater Tales is a reprise and follows the questioning of 

Plumply paddling some yards astern of Reprise, 
Wye I . . she calls up cordially from the creek Are 
you Repreeze or Reprize? . . . 

Lee and Frank Talbott! We met you at Doug 
Townshend's once, a hundred years ago! Says the 
fellow, surprised, so you are the Sagamores. We 
wondered. His wife says to Katherine Your 
memory's amazing. (TT 393-94) 

The name of Frank and Lee's sailboat, like their remeeting 

and the name of Frank's "work in progress," is both a 

reprise and the questioning of a reprise. Reprise is not 

Pokey (Fenn and Susan's sailboat in Sabbatical ) not because 

Pokey is fictional and Reprise real, but because a reprise 

is not a repetition and because what follows is always a 

retelling. Following their meeting again Peter and 

Katherine and Frank and Lee tell each other a series of 

stories that describe what has brought them to this reprise, 

stories that are also reprises themselves. The stories are 

described briefly in "Ready for Another?" (TT 402-03). The 

following passage relates two of them: 

Says Franklin Talbott directly but not severely to 
Leah Talbott If you'll tell me why your having an 
abortion at age thirty-five means we're never 
going to have any children ever, I'll tell you why 
you didn't tell me you were pregnant until after 
you'd had that abortion, even though I knew it 
anyhow, just as I knew you'd had a look at my 
novel-manuscript that I'd rather you hadn't looked 
at till I'd proved to myself that I could write 
it. (TT 403) 

It will be apparent that these are stories already told, in 

Sabbatical , and here they constitute other stories in 

themselves, other stories partly because they are within The 


Tidewater Tales (Peter and Katherine haven't heard them 
before) , and when they are retold and expanded they will 
have become part of the reprising that constitutes The 
Tidewater Tales . We cannot think of Sabbatical as being 
written into The Tidewater Tales . The story is told again, 
is reprised. The story of Sabbatical is made different not 
simply because some of the details are "changed" but also 
because the story comes after one already set down. 

Calmed, the story tellers "tied Story [Peter and 
Katherine 's sailboat] behind Reprise (There's a switch, said 
Peter Sagamore)" (TT 449). In a sense it is turning things 
around for the story to follow the reprising of the story, 
but that is essentially what the narrators of Sabbatical and 
The Tidewater Tales suggest is going on in their claiming 
authorship. They claim to be telling about the writing, to 
be offering a reprising of the story and its writing, before 
the story is written. In another sense stories do follow 
reprises, because stories are always in themselves the 
reprising of stories. The Tidewater Tales is the reprising 
of and is sequel to Sabbatical , a story that is itself a 
reprise, a repetition not quite a repetition. 

After speculating about the possibility of going back 
to the origin of what is commonly called a repetition and 
coming again to the conclusion that the origin is, in 
Derrida's terms, borne away, I was led to question the 
position of the author and the time of writing. In The 


Tidewater Tales the position of the author is brought into 
question as the repository of truth, in particular, the 
truth about the history of the text. 

Rather than allow myself to be overwhelmed by the 
problem of discovering historical truth in a narrative or 
evidence of the factual ity of a historical record, I asked 
what follows and follows from the qestioning of truth in a 
narrative, arriving at this conclusion: what follows is a 
narrative . This conclusion might seem a tautology. Since 
the narrative is dependent on the sequence , on one thing 
following another, the text that follows, that allows a 
following to occur within it, is by definition a narrative. 
But we can not settle for tautology because tautology is, in 
a sense, the opposite of a narrative: since a tautological 
"truth" is a truth by definition , it does not allow for 

A narrative will follow the questioning of truth. 
Because the questioning of truth leads one back — to the 
supposed origin, the historical record, the author — it 
forces one to use a methodology based on a temporality, on 
the efficacy of a past, and on sequential ity, on what 
follows the past. Questioning the truth forces one to 
create a narrative, which denies all along the way the 
possibility of arriving at the truth. 


Setting the Task 

All along, we have been playing at the "end" — at what 
has been called the "end" or marked in some way as 
representing the place of a conclusion: Circling and the 
guestion of knowledge are concerned with how what might have 
been called the "end" is turned back on the book towards 
what might have been called the "beginning," making 
indeterminate those absolute limits. The issue of abortion 
questions, as part of its effect on the text, the 
possibility of the text's disposal, of getting rid of the 
text in order to get past or outside of it. The repetition 
of a text marks itself in a deferral of the end, of putting 
the end off until later but never coming to it in the text. 
Considering the text's production in terms of the supplement 
also has serious consequences for the concept of the end, 
because, if the production of the text involves its reading, 
the "end" is always replaced in a supplementation that does 
not allow an end per se . 

The narrators of The Tidewater Tales have been playing 
all along too, but they seem compelled to end, to conclude, 
to "complete," the story as if there were a price to pay in 



a story's incompletion. Even as the task of storytelling is 

set, the story marks the need for, as it moves toward, its 

"ending." (Because the task is set in verse, it seems all 

that is needed is a closing rhyme: "in short, yet another 

rhyme, as it were, for cost to end this poem with, even if 

we have to abandon verse for prose or prose for verse to 

reach it: a rhyme less discouraging, more pregnant so to 

speak with hope, than lost " [TT 22].) What sort of hope 

would be lost if the end were lost ? For what do the 

narrators hope? To be fetched by the story beyond : 

Tell me their story as if it weren't ours 
But like ours enough so that the Powers 
That drive and steer good stories might 
Fetch them beyond our present plight 

and navigate the tale itself to an ending more 
rich and strange than everyday realism ordinarily 
permits. . . . (TT 22) 

Though the narrators say together that "on our boat an 
open-ended story is no story at all" (TT 237) , closing the 
"end" is a task generally taken on by Peter . He is the 
writer and so the one who finds himself in need of moving 

For Peter we ask this question: Will "The Ending" move 
us beyond? 

If the end is the thing that will move us beyond, the 
question of the beyond will entail playing at the limits of 
the text and accounting for, if not agreeing with, the idea 
that the limits can be set and therefore also for the 
relation between the textual and the real, (according to 
traditional usage) the signifier and the signified, which is 


why in setting the task, part of which is the moving beyond, 
the narrators become enmeshed in their relation to the 
"real": "Tell me their story as if it weren't ours, / But 
like ours. ..." This statement is made as if the speaker 
were outside the text, perhaps in the "real" world, as if 
the story had not yet begun and with them in it. We know 
that cannot be the case. So already the question of the 
beyond has not only brought to the fore the dichotomy 
between the textual and the real but has also brought that 
dichotomy into question by marking as false the situation in 
which it is presented. Their plight, in other words, is 
caused by the compulsion to move beyond. Let us mark this 
as ironic and perhaps viciously circular. 

Moving beyond, for Peter, is, in part, moving beyond 
the text, but there is a more particular aspect of his 
compulsion. The plight mentioned in Katherine's task- 
setting poem is, in particular, Peter's inability to write 
and the tension that inability has placed on Peter and 
Katherine's relationship. His work has become shorter and 
shorter over the years because of his desire to render 
truthfully "lived experience": 

contextual circumstances are as crucial to the 
flavor of recreated experience as the fact that 
Katherine has never borne a child before, though 
she's had one induced and one spontaneous 
abortion. Peter Sagamore used to wish that he 
could know and render them all , despite his 
understanding, that if he did, no story would get 
told. Leaving them incompletely said still feels 
to him like describing a fine champagne as merely 
alcohol, water, and carbonic acid in solution. 
Better sip in silence than thus falsify! (TT 99) 


Better not to speak than to falsify; that is, for Peter, the 
minimalist creed. It is because of his desire to tell the 
truth about the real world that his writing the "final 
version of 'B*','" the story in progress at the setting of 
the task, consists of "deleting all that remained of it: its 
abbreviated title" (TT 291) . The "writing" of this "final 
version" is supposed also to be the "completion" of a stage 
in the career of its writer: "That ultimate kenosis, so long 
in the works of his works, was thus completed as Katherine 's 
filling was all but fulfilled. The latter vessel stood 
ready to be emptied, the former to be replenished, when 
Peter said Set me a task!" (TT 291). Apparently, Peter and 
Katherine think that in order to write under the pressure of 
the minimalist creed, one must bring oneself to the end not 
only of the text but also of writing. In order to write, to 
move "beyond the vanishing point," Peter must be emptied; he 
must get beyond the compulsion to tell the truth, which 
means beyond the need to be beyond the text. The difficulty 
for Peter and Katherine lies in the paradox that "working 
through to some other side" (TT 269) reestablishes the same 
sort of dichotomy that requires a moving beyond. 

Peter and Katherine seem to understand themselves in 
textual terms, if not as part of this text, The Tidewater 
Tales : Katherine speaks of a beyond as "an ending more rich 
and strange than everyday realism ordinarily permits." That 
the beyond of their "present plight" is tied to "everyday 
realism" is not to suggest simply that they are real , but 


rather that they are part of a textual ity dominated by the 
realistic. We will see that Katherine's description of 
their situation in the text, like Peter's understanding that 
a writer cannot say it all, that the text is an inevitable 
falsification, is contradicted by their repeated and 
insistent division of the fictive from the real. 

The Next Thing; The Postscript 

"The Ending": I accept its double meaning, the 
insistence of the concept of the end even under the pressure 
of the quotation marks which are a questioning of the 
concept as well as the citing of a title; let us point out 
that the fact that it is also a title obscures the 
questioning of the concept. The coming of "The Ending": 
Foretold in the writer's insistence on closure and 
completion, "The Ending" is always on the horizon. 

Peter takes up the story of Don Quixote in the Cave of 
Montesinos because, he claims, it is the only story in Don 
Quixote that is "unrefuted by reality." We have considered 
Peter's claim in Chapter IV in detail. It will suffice us 
here to point out that Peter seeks a completion and a 
closure and that he understands the completion and closure 
of Don Quixote only in terms of the story's connection to 
and difference from the "real." Peter writes (or, perhaps, 
more precisely is writing ! a "Possible Three-Part Don 
Quixote Story," Part Three of which is not yet complete — as 
yet it is only "Part of Part Three ..." (TT 520). Even in 


"The Ending" when the story teller "Tucks Us All In," trying 
to tie up all the loose ends of the story, the hypothetical 
listener "nods off before he can exasperate our narrator by 
asking So where is that Captain Whatsisname?" (TT 653). We 
are never told the end of the story about Don Quixote in the 
cave of Montesinos, about how Don Quixote comes out of the 
cave into the world of Peter Sagamore and becomes Captn Don 
(Donald Quicksoat, "Captain Whatsisname"). The end of this 
story has no place in "The Ending." 

"The Ending" is told in response to a general 
dissatisfaction with the unf inishedness of May's 
Scheherazade stories, and in particular of "Prisoners of 
Dramaturgy, or, Scheherazade's Unfinished Story Unfinished." 
Presumably what would finish the stories would be 
Scheherazade's being sent back to her place and time and 
order of reality by the speaking of an enchantment yet to be 
discovered. Her seemingly random disappearance, and 
especially the fact that no one sees her disappear, prompts 
all May's listeners to protest the story's lack of 
conclusion. And though Peter asks, "When did Scheherazade 
ever finish a story the same night she began?" suggesting 
the coming of "The Ending" and of the end of Scheherazade's 
story, Lee says that "We don't know for sure she's back 
where she came from" and Carla B Silver that "Maybe she only 
appeared to disappear" (TT 613). Peter assumes that the 
story is unfinished because a dramaturgical ly appropriate 
enchantment has not been spoken, but Lee and Carla B Silver 


add that neither do we know that Scheherazade's situation 
has changed. We have no way of determining whether she has 
been sent outside the orbit of this particular place and 
time and order of reality, whether where she is constitutes 
an out side-text. 

The title "The Ending" might be considered generic 
because it seems to name a thing that which it is. But all 
generic titles have the potential for being ironic. "The 
Ending" can be asking us this question: Should we consider 
this part of the book "the ending"? Being a title, "The 
Ending" forces us to put it in quotation marks, and because 
it is generic, we may consider putting it in double 
quotation marks to make the irony clear: "'The Ending.'" I 
don't cite this title as one that names that which it is, 
but as one that questions that which it is considered to be. 
We should also consider that "ending" describes the action 
of the verb and not, strictly speaking, a state of being. 
We would not be wrong to say Peter Sagamore has been ending 
throughout The Tidewater Tales , if by that we meant he has 
been trying to end or trying to bring the story to an end. 
In other words, and on the other hand, "The Ending" may in 
fact describe itself by describing, again, the attempt to 

It is not difficult to see that the attempt is a failed 
one. In order to describe the end one would have to be 
outside the text, which is where "The Ending"' s narrator 
appears to be. "Scheherazade" says to her husband, "I'll 


tell you the whole story — starting tonight" (TT 641) , as if 
she could tell it all. Her view of the story is described 
as "omniscopic" (TT 641) , and because it has been nine 
months since she "rematerialized, " her view is given the 
appearance of an objective temporal distance as well. She 
appears to be outside and after the story. She makes 
statements about events that no one within the story would 
seem to be able to make (about, for instance, Fred's and 
Jon's deaths) . 

Despite what seems to be, despite the fact that 
Scheherazade seems to be telling from another place and time 
and order of reality, "The Ending" can only be told from 
within. Every reference to the "outside" is made from 
within the text. Though Scheherazade says she will tell the 
"whole story," by "starting tonight" she suggests a 
beginning, which the concept of whole story has already 
denied, and suggests the ability to bring the story to an 
end; she will never be able to account for the whole story 
because it includes the story of the telling of the story, 
which is always under way. In addition, the fact that it 
has been nine months since her rematerialization places "The 
Ending" firmly within the metaphorical construct of the 
story, contradicting the appearance of a temporal 
objectivity. Further, though Scheherazade seems to be 
"speaking for herself," we are reminded that May is speaking 
for her as she has throughout the telling of the 
Scheherazade stories: "What say, May? Tell on, 


Scheherazade" (TT 644) . The voice is that of a "projected 

narrator" (TT 654), one who if thrown forward is in no way 

objectified or externalized. The narrator has to be viewed 

as an extension of what projects it. 

This "projected narrator" claims that the only thing 

left to do is to end the poem in which Katherine set the 

task of coming to an end. That has been the task all 

along — to end the poem, to come to an end. All that is left 

to do is precisely what was left at the setting of the task; 

we have come no closer to the end in coming to "The Ending." 

The poem can do no more than point out its own 

unf inishedness . 

We thought we lacked a closing rhyme for cost 
To end our poem with: one less bleak than lost . 
Remember? But we were in formal fact 
Not at the end at all. (TT 654) 

And here in the text is no end either: "We'd launched a new 

stanzaic pair: a Jack / Implying and preceding some new 

Jill" (TT 654). The implication of a "new Jill" is our 

reading " The Tidewater Tales: A Novel " (on page 656) , which 

follows the poem, not as an end or as a repetition of the 

beginning but as a "new" text, "a whole new tale" (TT 655) . 

The end is not the word lost after all; but the end is lost 

if by that we mean it was never found. The search for a 

closing rhyme is abandoned as the text moves into prose. 

This "new" text cannot be considered an outside-text, 

nor can it be considered a direct reference to the "real" ; 

" The Tidewater Tales: A Novel " does not refer directly to 

the book we hold in our hands when we read those words. 


"The Tidewater Tal es: A Novel » (TT 652) wraps itself back 
into the text from which it springs; it necessarily refers 
to the inside of the book—there are three other title pages 
that include the words The Tidewater Tales; A Novel and many 
references in dialogue to a book called The Tidewater Tales: 
A Novel, not to mention the arguably continual talk about 
"this book." it is marked throughout that those words refer 
to a book not yet written. "At the writing," The Tidewater- 
Tales will not have been completed; "at the reading," all 
reference to the book wraps back into the book disclaiming 
itself as the book's conclusion. The "wrap-up" inventory 
that constitutes "The Ending" does not tie up the loose 
ends, but "tucks" these loose ends into the text. 

Without coming to the end of the text, we cannot go 
beyond it. "The Ending" is neither a completion nor a 
conclusion of the story, nor does it bring us any closer to 
the "outside" of the text, to a world that is real or a text 
that is independent of the text in hand. 

What we come to in "The Ending" is always only The Next 
Thing, a postscript. Peter explains the narrative nature of 
the "ending" in describing a story of his, called 
"Apocalypse," that "ends" in mid-sentence: "When, in a 
story, nothing happens next, that is the thing that happens 
next: The nothing becomes a thing" (TT 142) . The 
apocalypse, foreshadowed by the story, never comes. 39 What 

39 Derrida points out that the apocalyptic tone is 
signified not by the description of an end but by the 
declaration that the end is beginning or that the end is 


"ends" a story is never simply nothing, which is to say 
there is never an absolute end in the text. 40 "The Ending" 
is simply a writing that follows, another P.S. It is not 
outside the text, but it is placed at the limit of text and 
written as if it were outside. 

Bearing the Sign 

In response to a question about a notation attempting 
to escape metaphysics, Derrida illustrates the inevitable 
reflection of a system in the system's rejection. Though 
Saussurean semiology has marked "that the signified is 
inseparable from the signifier, that the signified and 
signifier are the two sides of one and the same production, 
. . . turning against the metaphysical tradition the concept 
of the sign that he borrowed from it, . . . Saussure could 
not not confirm this tradition in the extent to which he 
continued to use the concept of the sign" (Derrida, 
Positions 18-19) . 

There are two aspects of The Tidewater Tales 's 
questioning the possibility of the end, both of which tend 
to confirm traditional notions about the boundaries of texts 

soon ("Of an Apocalyptic Tone" 24). 

40 That The Next Thing cannot be the end is implied in 
Peter's description of one of the narrative dwarves on his 
back, "the petering out of literary modernism and the not- 
quite-petering-in of the Best Next Thing"; if we understand 
The Next Thing as something other, then there will be the 
sense of its not-quite-petering-in. Barth echoes Peter's 
description in "The Literature of Replenishment" (FB 206) . 


in using the concept of the end: (1) if the text cannot be 
brought to an end, then any assertion based on the relation 
between the inside and the outside of a text is rendered 
absurd; (2) if there is no outside-text, then the real- 
world/textual -world dichotomy is likewise disposed of a 
priori . 

We can see how these aspects have become attached to 
each other. If one has moved beyond the text to some 
outside, where would one be but in the real world? 
(Saussure argued against the absolute distinction between 
concept and language, but a more fundamental, more 
traditional distinction between the real world and the 
textual world tries to impose itself on the systemization of 
language according to the limits of the text or the sign) . 

Our question is this: To what extent are the 
implications that are inscribed in a system that proposes 
the validity of the concept of the end (in particular the 
distinction between the real and the textual) assumed in 
turning that system against itself? 

Throughout The Tide water Ta1ss r the division between 
art and life is held to be essential: "But what husband and 
wife are living, and trying rather desperately just now 
without success to read ahead in, is not their story. It's 
their life" (TT 140) . We are warned: "Mess not with the 
distinction between life and art; things are tough enough 
already" (TT 150) . Including an event in a story because it 
seems to have happened in real life is said to be "an 


apprentice error" (TT 260) . We are said to be able to 
tolerate more complexity in a novel than we can in life; Lee 
Talbott says directly, "but of course, art isn't life" (TT 
407) . These statements (and the divisions they make) will 
seem clear cut until we introduce the questioning of the 

In describing his "Apocalypse," Peter adds that, 
whereas the story goes on with the addition of the next 

nothing is no thing, and our story does not at all 
necessarily go on, for the reason that our lives 
are not stories. (TT 142) 

This statement may well be indecipherable, but figuring out 

how it is indecipherable will tell us something about the 

reinstitution of the dichotomy between the real and the 

textual. In a story what follows is the next thing, even if 

the next thing is "nothing"; in other words, stories go on . 

What would seem to oppose this logic would be a statement to 

this effect: In life what follows might be nothing; life 

does not necessa rily ao on . But that is not the opposition 

offered by The Tidewater Tales , what will not necessarily 

go on is our story . The story goes on; our story does not 

necessarily go on because "lives are not stories." This 

sort of messing with the distinction between art and life, 

which is foretold in Peter and Katherine's wanting to "read" 

ahead in their "lives" and which is nearly pervasive in 

Barth's books (so much so that an illustration would be 


merely redundant) , is predicated by the questioning of the 

"The Tragic View," according to The Tidewater Tales , is 
the inevitable self-infection of one who would undermine 
that which is corrupt (TT 261) . In order to offset the evil 
done by his brother in the CIA or even to convert him, Frank 
joins the CIA, and, in order to establish his cover, he 
participates in the wrong he is trying to undo. The tragic 
view of language would delineate a corresponding corruption 
and debasing of language or the writer. Though Peter does 
not write about spies, because he has immersed himself as a 
listener in stories about spies, his work becomes fiction 
not about spies. The not-about becomes what the stories are 
about so that his work becomes a decision about how not to 
write spy stories (TT 262) . In undermining the dichotomy 
between "subjects" and stories that define subjects, between 
"things" and their representations, one will participate in 
the tradition that allows that dichotomization to occur. 

When Katherine says, "Tell me their story as if it 
weren't ours," she marks a connection between stories . Ours 
is elliptical for "our story," not, though it might seem to 
be, for "our life." But already her poetic injunction has 
implied the connection and difference between art and life: 
"Tell me a story of women and men / Like us" (TT 21, 
emphasis mine) . It is therefore a double injunction, or 
rather an injunction that is doubled. Prefaced by a word 
that marks it as a quotation, the reiteration puts itself 


forward as a repetition ("Well: / Tell me their story 
• . ."); to say that it is a repetition, though, does not 
sufficiently take into account their difference: one implies 
a distinction (though not without equivocation) between art 
and life, the other a distinction (though not without 
equivocation) between stories. Though the injunction is not 
simply repeated, the difference between its iterations is 
not established; they might be said to constitute two sides 
of the same injunction. 

A reference to women and men would seem to establish 
the division between the textual and the real — this is to be 
a story about women and men. But these are not women and 
men in the world; rather they are women and men "like us." 
We are given no assurances about the referent of this "us," 
but even at the limits of the text the pronoun must at least 
refer to the characters being formed by the narrative voice. 
Each time we are led to the edge of the text, pushed, in 
fact, toward the "real," we are wrapped back into it. 

Wrapped into what? Into the text which is pushing us 
toward the "real," both into the text and into the dichotomy 
between the textual and the real, which compels us to move 
to an "outside." 

Narrating Living 

It might be said that I have been using various figures 
(conception, abortion, delivery) merely to talk about 
language; and I might have provoked this objection by not 


saying here and there along the way that I am looking 
through these figures, using them as a substitute for a more 
abstract or more "theoretical" view of reading, writing, 
narrating, etc. This objection and its easy remedy bear the 
seed of a misconception. They assume a prior division 
between the concept and the sign that represents the concept 
and between the sign or the text and the world in which a 
conception is thought to occur. I do not intend to remake 
Saussure's arguments about the connection between the 
signified and the signifier, though they are arguments that 
could bear review, but rather to say again, even here where 
I am at risk of laboring a metaphor, that in this particular 
case the figures are inseparable from a view of how language 
works and, in particular, how stories are told. 

In The Tid ewater Talps we can see "things" only 
textually, that is, as figures, and never outside their 
textual ramifications. Further, we can read the story, 
which is about storytelling, only in terms of the figures, 
so that any use of a "metaphor" will be read as constituting 
a statement about narration. It is not surprising, then, 
that Peter's delivery of his and Katherine's story, the one 
they call The Tide water Tales: A Novel r is to coincide with 
Katherine's delivery of her and Peter's children. A 
coincidence, though, will not bear a methodology of reading. 
Sabbatical has shown us, and it is reiterated in The 
Tidewater Tales, that the work is not an adequate substitute 
for the child. When Fenn offers the story as a substitute, 


it is Susan's feeling that something is missing from their 
story. The figure and the description of the story, the 
theory of narration, are no more interchangeable in The 
Tidewater Tales. The movements toward delivery are not 
merely coincidental and are not substitutive. 

As soon as we think in traditional terms about the use 
of a metaphor, about the figure as a substitute for the 
theory of narration, a double insemination will have already 
taken place. The figure will have given the story its 
"life" and the story will have given the figure its, so that 
the only way they can function is in terms of the other, a 
contraction without equivalence. 

When Peter begins the labor of his writing, we know, 
with the certainty and according to the rhythm of a 
contraction, that Katherine has begun hers. We know this 
not simply because we have anticipated the rigorous 
organization of the story (the fact is that we have been 
forewarned about it) , but because the delivery organizes 
itself narratively, according to a narrative view: in terms 
of a sequence of events and a looking forward. A delivery 
defines itself as that which is looked forward to; a 
delivery will follow a labor. But delivery has never 
occurred, that is, has never taken place within the story; 
we cannot think of delivery as establishing itself, 
occupying a place or a time. The future is its only tense; 
the delivery will be made. This is why we will never read 
the book that Peter and Katherine say they are writing, the 


book called The Tidewater Tales: A Novel . The Tidewater 
Tales does not put the narrative view in the place of the 
conclusion (the conclusion has no place) , but in place of 
the possibility of coming to an end. If a narrative looks 
beyond itself, it looks without ever seeing what is beyond. 


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Creed C. Greer, III received his BA in English from the 
University of Florida in 1982 and his MA in English from the 
University of Florida in 1985. His master's thesis, 
"Boundary and Beyond: Kurt Vonnegut and the Character of 
Words," explores the author's relation to the text in terms 
of schizophrenia, pseudonymity, and the signature. 


I certify that I have read this study and that in my 
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly 
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as 
a dissertation for the deqree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

Johift' P. Leavey, [ffit^r^Chair 
Professor of Enqlish 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my 
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly 
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as 
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

(/ii/k^ P. fa & 

William R. Robinson 
Professor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my 
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly 
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as 
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

John M. Perlette 

Associate Professor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my 
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly 
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as 
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

R. B. Kershner 

Associate Professor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my 
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly 
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as 
a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 


Robert D'Amico 

Associate Professor of Philosophy 

This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty 
of the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts 
and Sciences and to the Graduate School and was accepted as 
partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of 
Doctor of Philosophy. 

December 1989 Dean, Graduate School